Pancreatic cancer is an unwelcome tradition in Neil Piper’s family.
After losing four family members to the disease, and being at risk himself along with his niece, the Bethlehem resident knew he had to raise awareness of the “silent killer.”
“Usually it’s too late by the time you’re diagnosed,” said Piper. “There are no warning signs until it’s in its late stages.”
After losing his brother in 2002, Piper and his wife, Shari, began working with the Lustgarten Foundation to support its mission in finding treatment and early detection methods for pancreatic cancer. Through that group’s partnership with Cablevision, 100 percent of all donated funds go directly to cancer research.
Two years later, the Pipers held the first annual Albany-Capital District Walk for Hope in support of pancreatic cancer. It involved about 15 people who raised $4,000.
The walk is now in its ninth year and in 2011 raised about $90,000 with the help of 400 people. In total, the walk has raised about $500,000 for the Lustgarten Foundation. This year’s goal is to breach the $100,000 mark.
According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 71 people in the United State will develop pancreatic cancer, and those rates have increased by 1.5 percent since 2004. The survival rate after one year of diagnosis is 20 percent, while the survival rate after five years drops significantly to 4 percent. It is the fourth most deadly form of cancer in the country.
Despite these statistics, pancreatic cancer remains largely out of the spotlight. But everyone involved with putting together the Walk for Hope has been touched by pancreatic cancer in some way.
Diane Luther, a walk committee organizer from Cohoes, lost two brothers. She got involved with the group because when she lost her sibling in the early 1980s, when little was known about the disease and few people even knew it existed.
“There wasn’t much out there for caregiver to grab hold of to offer comfort or help to their loved ones,” she said, praising the effort of the Lustgarten Foundation to change that.
Luther’s hope is to bring this specific form of cancer to the public’s attention because the chances of survival are so low.
“Little research is done (comparatively) and pancreatic cancer isn’t as heavily funded as some other forms,” said Luther. “That’s not to say all cancer research isn’t important, but this is meaningful to us.”
The recent deaths of celebrities like Patrick Swayze, Steve Jobs and astronaut Sally Ride, all who succumbed to this particular form of cancer, has brought more awareness to the public about the disease.
In 2010, Piper underwent surgery to remove a suspicious growth from his pancreas. It was found as part of an early detection study at John Hopkins University that is partially funded by Lustgarten. Piper recovered and retained 40 percent of his pancreas, which allows him to live healthy and drug-free. His niece is also involved in the study, as are several local residents who are involved with the Walk for Hope.
“We do the walk less to mourn those we’ve lost, but to celebrate their lives,” said Piper.
The walk is meant to be a happy and unifying occasion for the whole family. The band Code Blue will be playing. There will also be a silent auction, a 50/50 raffle, a visit from the Albany Devil Dawg, face painting and a show by The Puppet People for the children. Food and drinks will be available as well. Kate Welshofer, weeknight anchor for YNN, will serve as emcee.
The Walk for Hope will begin at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 9, from the large pavilion at Bethlehem’s Elm Avenue Park, rain or shine. The walk is 1.2 miles long but many go around more than once. Strollers and wheelchairs are able to take the course.
Day-of-race registration starts at 8:30 a.m. For more information, to donate to the cause or to pre-register, visit albanypcrwalk.org.