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Pancreatic cancer survivor wants to raise more awareness for the disease

Posted at 11:39 AM, Dec 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-01 13:39:08-05

Almost a decade ago, Matt Wilson went to the emergency room after experiencing a lot of pain. It was pretty clear he had a kidney stone, but the doctors wanted to take a look to be sure.

“After they identified the kidney stone, they told me I had a shadow in my pancreas," said Wilson.

That shadow would lead to a few months without answers.

“Went through testing and went through months of tests without knowing what it is, but they wouldn’t rule anything out. The months of not knowing were stressful. They were stressful on me, they were on my family,” said Wilson.

Finally, after visiting a specialist in Philadelphia, he finally got an answer.

“They said I had a cancerous tumor on the tail of my pancreas. I went in for a kidney stone and came out with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer,” he recalled.

Wilson knew he wanted to fight. He underwent surgery to remove part of his pancreas, his spleen, and 21 lymph nodes.

Wilson has survived for nine years since his diagnosis. According to the American Cancer Association, the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is just 9 percent.

“It is one of the deadliest cancers,” said Julie Fleshman, the CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

The group raises money and awareness for pancreatic cancer. She wants people to know why it’s such a hard disease to detect.

“The symptoms of pancreatic cancer are quite vague. There’s things like stomach pain and back pain, unexplained weight loss. Things that could be associated with other diseases, so it’s not usually the first thing that someone thinks of as oh, maybe it’s pancreatic cancer,” said Fleshman.

In addition to unclear symptoms, there’s no early detection test like you might have with other cancers.

"Usually, by the time it’s diagnosed, it’s late stage. It’s already metastasized or spread to other organs, and it’s more difficult to treat at that point,” said Fleshman.

But Fleshman and Wilson hope the efforts of organizations like PanCan will lead to an early detection test and more treatments to help save lives.

“I actually really think that it’s possible that in the next decade for us to have an early detection strategy,” said Fleshman.

“My hope is that we continue to make advances. That we can have early detection for people for pancreatic cancer in the future, and I think we will get there. And that will continue to improve patient outcomes and improve the survival rate of this disease,” said Wilson.