Four years ago today, the first Inauguration of President Obama, my husband, Tim, began radiation therapy in an attempt to shrink back a deadly tumor in his pancreas discovered a few weeks earlier. His doctors hoped the treatment would work well enough to make him a candidate for the Whipple procedure, life-saving surgery for pancreatic cancer patients. It was his only chance at more years of life. He was 59 years old and otherwise very fit and healthy.
We lived in Reston, Virginia and had to travel that day to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Nearly two million people were expected to be on the Mall in Washington, D.C., to witness the historic event – the inauguration of the nation’s first African-American President. While we were very excited about the new President and hopeful about his leadership at a time of peril for the U.S. economy, we were terrified we would be hopelessly stuck in beltway traffic trying to get to Johns Hopkins and life-saving treatment for Tim. Fortunately, we had wonderful friends in the Baltimore area who offered us a room in their home. We traveled to Baltimore on January 19th, spent the night with our friends and were on time the next morning for Tim’s first radiation treatment.
The radiation worked to reduce the large tumor in the head of the pancreas, but chemotherapy had failed to prevent hundreds of small, granular-like tumors from developing and spreading throughout Tim’s abdomen. He was not a candidate for the Whipple procedure. He died on May 3, 2009.
One year later in June of 2010, Tim’s daughter, Susan, and I decided to do something to help pancreatic patients and their loved ones. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network was sponsoring the first Purple Stride in Washington, D.C. to raise money to advance research, support patients and create hope. They were also holding an annual advocacy day to encourage Congress to pass the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act which would require the National Cancer Institute to develop a strategic plan to improve treatment, early detection, and prevention of pancreatic cancer, and several other persistently deadly cancers. The five year survival rate for pancreatic cancer it is just six percent.
Susan and I raised money from family and friends and walked with several thousand others joined together in grief, but especially in hope, to fight the disease that took their loved ones away. We also joined in the advocacy effort and worked for the next two and a half years to get the pancreatic cancer bill passed.
On January 3, 2013, President Obama signed the bill into law. In a Congress that had been marked by bitter partisan conflict, this bill garnered 234 co-sponsors in the House and 58 in the Senate. Both political parties were heavily represented among the supporters. Susan and I are extremely gratified with this positive outcome that we had a small part in achieving. It helps ease our grief to know that we have helped to prevent this, and other deadly cancers, from robbing other families of their loved ones too soon.
President Obama and his wife Michele have asked Americans to set aside one day during this inaugural season to participate in community service of their choosing. I urge those who are suffering from cancer, and loss due to cancer, to join in this endeavor. It will lift your spirits. I promise.