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Beating pancreatic cancer despite its reputation

Pancreatic cancer has a scary reputation, but as one local survivor relates, it can be beaten.
February 7, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
Initially, pancreatic cancer tends to be silent. As it grows it can cause symptoms such as weight loss, yellowish skin, back and abdominal pain. This disease has a scary reputation, but as one local survivor relates, it can be beaten.

As dean of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, Susan Marquis teaches her students to be resourceful, analytic thinkers, but recently what she needed to analyze more closely was her own health. Marquis went to her doctors with symptoms of jaundice.

"So I show up in his office and I was bright yellow. My eyes were bright yellow," said Marquis.

While waiting for test results she did her own research. She told her doctor: "All right, my guess is this is probably pancreatic cancer. So feel free to tell me that and let's figure out what we do."

Within days she underwent surgery and later chemotherapy, but the most trying part of her recovery was listening to what others said about her diagnosis.

"Pancreatic cancer has a reputation," said Marquis. "Once you've got that diagnosis, that's it. And you can see that on people's faces."

More than 44,000 Americans are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year. Most of the them die. A big reason for that: Many of them are diagnosed too late.

"By the time those symptoms do develop and the diagnosis is made, the disease has already has spread," said Dr. Howard Reber, Hirshberg Foundation.

At the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research at UCLA, scientists are developing new tools for early detection and investigating certain properties in food that can kill cancer cells.

"There's very exciting evidence that the cancers can be suppressed by using those chemicals," said Reber.

Marquis feels the most important thing people with pancreatic cancer is to stay positive and fight.

"I think a willingness to sort of tackle it head-on rather than just shutting down and despairing can make a real difference," said Marquis.

If you'd like to meet Susan Marquis and others survivors, they'll be part of the Agi Hirshberg Symposium for Pancreatic Cancer Research on Saturday at the UCLA faculty center. The event begins at 9 a.m., and you'll also learn about the latest advances in treatment.


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