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November 02. 2013 4:28AM

Deadly foe

NH joins national vigil to help fight pancreatic cancer


Participants in Sunday's vigil to raise awareness of the fight against pancreatic cancer raise their purple glow sticks in Manchester's Veterans Memorial Park. (GARONE PHOTOGRAPHY)

Autumn in New Hampshire features a mixture of yellows, oranges and reds. Last weekend, Veterans Memorial Park in downtown Manchester played host to a powerful display of the color purple.

An estimated 160 people gathered Sunday as part of an effort to "turn the country purple," the color associated with pancreatic cancer awareness, according to Amy Nelson. More than 13,000 pancreatic cancer survivors and volunteers attended 80 PurpleLight National Vigil for Hope events in communities across the country, Nelson said.

The vigils served to kick off National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month by remembering those who have fought the disease and honoring survivors.

Nelson, of Brentwood, helped organize the New Hampshire vigil in honor of her mother, Marie Martel, a lifelong Manchester resident. Nelson said Marie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer Sept. 21, 2012, and died 45 days later. Tuesday marks the first anniversary of her death.

In an email, Nelson said: "Since the loss of my mother, I look at every day as an opportunity to create awareness and educate people on pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, and projections indicate that by 2020, pancreatic cancer will move to the nation's second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths, with only 2 percent of the National Cancer Institute's budget allocated to this disease. Our vision of progress is to double the survival rate by 2020. The five-year survival rate is only 6 percent, and most people who receive the diagnosis pass away within the first year....

"I am now part of a family I never chose to be a part of, but this family is one that sticks together, and we will continue to fight together until we find a cure."

Survivors, families and friends at the vigil were asked to stand while illuminating purple glow sticks when their name or their loved one's name was read. Organizers of the local event read the names of 34 people killed by the disease. Four survivors attended the vigil.Pancreatic cancer has the lowest five-year survival rate of all major cancers, Nelson said. This year, more than 45,000 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the United States, and more than 38,000 will die from the disease, according to figures supplied by the National Cancer Institute. Seventy-three percent of patients die within the first year after diagnosis.

The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is a national organization that advocates for a cure.

"We are made up of mostly volunteers, and New Hampshire has been on board for the past two years working with the organization," said Aimee Sherman, a volunteer New Hampshire community representative with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

"With November being Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, we are hoping to reach out to people across the state by wearing purple. November 22 is Wear Purple With a Purpose Day, with purple being the color for pancreatic cancer. Our goal is to work with as many public figures, friends and family to turn the country purple on that day."

According to Sherman, no early-detection methods exist to battle the disease, and effective treatment options are few. Statistics show about 200 pancreatic cancer deaths will occur in New Hampshire in 2013, Sherman said.

In a statement last week, Gov. Maggie Hassan declared November Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month in New Hampshire and said: "Pancreatic cancer affects hundreds of New Hampshire families each year and is expected to be the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the country by the end of the decade. By raising awareness of pancreatic cancer and encouraging the development of new treatments and tools for early detection, we can help save lives. I thank the members of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and other advocates in New Hampshire and across the country for their important work to combat this deadly disease."

Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas attended last weekend's vigil.

"We are grateful to have the support of Mayor Gatsas and so many others who have been afflicted by this disease," Nelson said.

To learn more about the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and local affiliates, go to www.pancan.org or call Sherman at 477-7834.

pfeely@unionleader.com





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