Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Time to Pause: Pancreatic Cancer

I always loved Patrick Swayze’s movies (well, most of them!). But most of all, I admired the way he walked through the world – with grace and dignity and kindness. Not surprisingly, he left the world this week in exactly the same way in which he lived.

His death has hit me hard, though. I think it’s because I’ve always felt this connection to him because he made me laugh and feel good at a very dark time in my life. The year Dirty Dancing was released in the theaters, my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was 20 years old. He was diagnosed in August, 1997, and passed away before Christmas. It was a swift and very painful death.

His quick decline was terrifying, and I was angry at his pain and lost as to how to handle everything. One night I went to the movies to get away and saw Dirty Dancing. I was transported into a different world, a more simple world that still held hope and happiness and possibilities. I was always grateful to Patrick Swayze for giving me that. Every time I see the movie, I feel as if I’m that 20-year-old again, gulping in the laughter and the joy the movie brought out in me.

I see a sad irony in that Patrick Swayze died of the same disease as my father, 22 years later. It makes me angry all over again – angry at this brutal disease that slips in unannounced and takes over before most people even know its there.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. There are no early detection tools, few treatment options, and no cure. Sadly, we haven’t come very far in the 22 years since my father passed away.

Many people know that I’m active in my local community, as well as with local and national animal rescue organizations. I have donated money to cancer research, but I haven’t been active in that arena. It still feels too raw and painful. But the time for ignoring it is over for me. I am asking Congress to make pancreatic cancer a priority and support the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act, (HR745). (For more information:

In January, Patrick Swayze told Barbara Walters, “I want to last until they find a cure, which means I'd better get a fire under it.”

Please join me in the effort to “light a fire under it” to honor the memory of Patrick Swayze and people like my father who have gone before him – as well as all those, like Vallejo’s own Dan Donahue, who “want to last” until a cure is found.