GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and each November 16 is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day. Around the world, people don purple on the day to make it known how deadly pancreatic cancer can be.
According to the Purple Project, a nonprofit focused on fighting pancreatic cancer, just 12% of those diagnosed survive longer than five years. With low survival rates, people with pancreatic cancer often do not live long enough to share their story, leaving the responsibility to their families, friends and loved ones.
Maria Cullipher lost her father to pancreatic cancer. Every year, she wears purple during the month of November, especially on November 16. She wants people to ask about her clothing, so she can share why she wore purple and share the story of her father, Don Anderson.
“When my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, we didn’t know much about it. We just knew it was bad,” Maria said.
To Maria, Don Anderson was one of the strongest people she ever met. He loved to be on the water. He loved playing in his backyard band. He loved his family.
“It sounds so cliche, but I’ve never heard anybody say anything bad about him,” Maria said.
In June 2014, Anderson felt his first pain. After many doctors’ visits, miles of driving and multiple biopsies, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It took seven tests before a positive cancer cell showed.
“So, from June 1 to the end of August, we felt like we knew, but we just couldn’t get that positive cell to get any treatment,” Maria said.
Life as Maria knew it changed in that moment. It became a fight for every last second possible with her father. She planned her wedding day, so Don could walk her down the aisle. Maria closed on a house, immediately rushing to his side, spending all hours of the day with him.
“Watching someone you love completely wither away to nothing, it was awful,” Maria said.
In less than a year, pancreatic cancer took Don away from his family and friends.
Maria said she could not have made it through without the support from others. Now it is Maria’s turn to give back and tell Don’s story.
“There’s not a lot of information out there about pancreatic cancer. I think it’s because the survival rate is so low. It’s the lowest of all major cancers,” Maria said.
Donning purple, lighting her home in the color and visiting different towns and cities to get proclamations declaring Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month are just a few of the ways Maria shows that people impacted by this form of cancer are not alone.
If it helps one person, Maria said, it’s worth the effort.
“You know, that’s what it’s all about, helping people. I can’t bring my dad back, but I know what he would do and that’s help people,” Maria said.
The Cancer Services of Eastern North Carolina is one group providing support for those affected by cancer. They encourage people to reach out. You can find their website by clicking here.