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Do Good: Mama's Boys run to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer

This quiet and rapidly fatal disease attacks an important but vastly under-appreciated organ in the body. It isn’t picky about its victims, although it seems to favor those in their late 50s and older. Chances are good that you know or have heard of someone who has succumbed to this disease: perhaps a friend or member of your own family. Even the rich and famous aren’t immune: Patrick Swayze, actor; Sally Ride, astronaut; Dizzy Gillespie, jazz musician; and too many others have died from it: pancreatic cancer.
Jeremy Moore, left,and John Hey, right.

Jeremy Moore, 37, and John Hey, 43, met as participants in the 2012 Chamber of Commerce Leadership Grand Rapids Program and discovered both their mothers had died from pancreatic cancer. With this sad interest in common, Moore and Hey set out to see if any strides had been made in the protocol for treating pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer because the disease is virtually symptom-free until it spreads. The mortality rate is terrible: 94% of patients will die within five years of diagnosis; 74% of patients die within the first year of diagnosis. Because there is no good screening method, pancreatic cancer is often not detected until it is advanced and metastasized to other parts of the body. By the time signs and symptoms are apparent, it is often too late to treat. It moves swiftly -- the average life expectancy after diagnosis with metastatic disease is just three to six months.

“My mother was diagnosed in August of 2009 and was dead by October of that year,” says John Hey, who co-founded the group, “Mama’s Boys,” along with Jeremy Moore.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) spent an estimated $105.3 million on pancreatic cancer research in 2012. That is only 1.8% of the NCI's $5.8 billion cancer research budget for that year. Not only is research woefully underfunded, any new medications take 10 years to develop, from idea stage to public availability.

“We were disappointed to discover that no substantial pancreatic research was happening in West Michigan, and we decided to do something about it,” says Moore. “We knew we had to raise awareness about this disease.”

Moore, 37, and Hey, 43, met as participants in the 2012 Chamber of Commerce Leadership Grand Rapids Program. Moore’s mother had also died from pancreatic cancer. With this sad interest in common, Moore and Hey set out to see if any strides had been made in the protocol for treating pancreatic cancer.

They reached out to local researcher and oncological surgeon, Mathew Chung, MD, FACS at Spectrum Health. Chung had been waiting for an opportunity to develop a genetic database to keep track of what treatments are most effective for specific genetic makeups, and he eventually hopes to develop a personalized treatment protocol.

Located in the abdomen behind the lower part of the stomach, the pancreas secretes enzymes to help the body digest food. It also secretes insulin to regulate the metabolism of sugars.

There are several factors that can increase a person’s risk for pancreatic cancer, including:
  • Age: The risk is higher for pancreatic cancer after the age of 60.
  • Gender: Pancreatic cancer is slightly more common in women.
  • Race: African-Americans are more likely to get the disease than people of other races.
  • Family history: Having a family history of pancreatic cancer increases your risk for the disease, including a family history of certain genetic syndromes, such as a BRCA2 gene mutation, Lynch syndrome, and Peutz-Jeghers syndrome.
  • Smoking: Smokers are more likely to get pancreatic cancer than non-smokers.
  • Having certain health conditions: People with pancreatitis (chronic inflammation of the pancreas) or diabetes, and those who are overweight or obese, have a higher risk for pancreatic cancer.
This past February, Mama’s Boys set up a Facebook page as well as a web page on Spectrum Foundation’s website to raise funds and awareness. Although there are no proven ways to prevent pancreatic cancer completely, you can reduce your risk for the disease by doing the following:
  • Quit smoking
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a diet with lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Exercise regularly
That last step – exercise -- is something Mama’s Boys take to heart.

“We discussed different ways to have fun, raise awareness, and get people involved,” says Hey. “People in this area are big on running, so we decided to hook into that.”

A strange thing to latch onto, considering neither Mama’s Boy is fond of running. But, before they knew it, they had posted their intentions on the Internet. “Once it’s out there on the Internet, you’re sort of obligated to follow it through,” says Hey. “Everybody is welcome. It should be said that we run at a very family-friendly pace.”

Get involved:

- Be part of the Mama’s Boys’ team! Gear up to run in the Fifth Third Riverbank Run on May 10, or the Huntington Reeds Lake Run on June 7. All funds raised will go toward Dr. Chung’s research. The Ferguson Digestive Disease Fund at the Spectrum Health Foundation will likely match any money raised. You must register separately for each race.
- Keep up to date on pancreatic cancer research and breakthroughs on Mama’s Boys’ Facebook page.
- Support Dr. Chung’s research with a donation. If you donate $50 or more, you’ll get a cool Mama’s Boys racing shirt.

Victoria Mullen is Rapid Growth Media's Do Good editor.

Images by Adam Bird

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