LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Of the more than 200 types of cancer a person can get, pancreatic cancer is the most deadly. Yet, the National Cancer Institute spends only one percent of its budget on pancreatic cancer research. In this special Healthcast report, 7News shares the story of one Lake Charles woman on a personal mission to change these grim statistics.
For 19 years, Kristi and Wayne Remy had a picture-perfect life - two kids, careers they loved and a solid marriage. "I was married to my best friend, my soul mate, I just knew I'd grow old with him," says Kristi.
But in the summer of 2003, everything changed. "He came back after a 7-day mission trip and said, 'I just don't feel good," recalls Kristi.
Kristi and Wayne called their doctor, who said they needed to get to the hospital fast. "Right away they started running tests," says Kristi, "he had six pints of blood, CT, MRI, multiple GI tests and within short order, I would say within a couple of days, we knew it was pancreatic cancer."
Wayne, who worked as a nuclear medicine tech, knew the severity of this diagnosis. Kristi, on the other hand, did not. "I thought it was like any cancer," says Kristi, "you go in have surgery, you have some chemo and then you're a survivor - that's what I thought."
Dr. Earl "Jay" Soileau, a family medicine physician and clinical instructor with the Lake Charles Memorial/LSU Family Medicine Residency Program, lost his mother to pancreatic cancer. He says the aggressiveness of this disease and where the pancreas is located creates a bad combination for cancerous growth. "Pancreatic cancer begins in the pancreas," says Dr. Soileau, "and the pancreas is at a crossroads in the body where there are lots of blood vessels going in all directions to many different systems...and that may be the reason why it's so hard to limit its growth."
Because of non-specific symptoms, the pancreatic cancer diagnosis typically doesn't come until a person is already at stage four...too late to operate and with practically no signs of hope. "Wayne was diagnosed July 31, 2003 and four months later, December 7, we lost him. We lost his fight," says Kristi.
38,000 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year. Unlike many other cancers, though, this one has a very low survival rate. Of those people diagnosed, 99 percent of them will die from the disease. "The average length of time to survive is four to six months," says Dr. Soileau, "pancreatic cancer does not have a good outlook."
Since Kristi couldn't change the outcome of Wayne's fight with the disease, she chose to work towards changing the future prognosis of pancreatic cancer - one step at a time. "It just rang back to me what my son had said when his dad was sick," says Kristi, "that he wanted to have a walk, because in his mind if he had a walk, we could come up with a cure and we could fix his dad - and you know, that's not so far off base."
For the past four years, Kristi has gotten the community moving as part of the "Purple Stride Lake Area" walk to raise money specifically for pancreatic cancer research - the lowest funded cancer. "This isn't about me, it's not even about him," says Kristi, "it's about a community coming together in our grief, in our anger, whatever and changing it."
At this point, there are no effective early detection methods to catch this disease before it's too late - but Kristi says she can't sit on the bench and watch little progress come about, she is in the game to make a difference.
"I think sometimes we're all called to a greater power and it's just not everybody can do it," says Kristi, "but I can't not do it...I can't not do it."
*If you want to help raise awareness about pancreatic cancer and funds for research, the Purple Stride Lake Area walk is Saturday, December 6th at Prien Lake Park in Lake Charles. To register, click here.
*Tune in for Tuesday's Sunrise show. In the 6:30 half hour, Kristi will join the Sunrise crew for an in-depth look at how one person truly can make a difference when they are inspired to create positive change.