Event to raise money for pancreatic cancer research
BY NOUR HABIB World Scene Writer
Thursday, October 04, 2012
10/04/12 at 2:49 AM
The first signals that something was wrong came in January 2009, when John F. Henry began complaining of back pain.
His family thought it was because he spent so much time driving as part of his sales job.
Then, stomach pain.
His doctors thought it was a peptic ulcer and said it would take six to eight weeks to heal.
The pain got worse. But an ultrasound came back clean, so doctors just gave him more pain medication.
Gwen Henry, John's mother, remembers her two teenage grandsons telling her, "We just go into our bedrooms and cry because dad hurts so bad."
Finally, Gwen persuaded her son to go to the emergency room.
On March 23, 2009, a CT scan found the tumor. John was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
"Just he and I were in the hospital room when the surgeon came in and told us he had cancer," said Gwen, tearing up at the memory. "And he just looked at me and said, 'Mom, what do we do now?' "
"We just fight with everything that we have," she told him.
By the time pancreatic cancer is detected, it is usually too late for surgery. John's options were limited to chemotherapy and radiation.
"We all expected him to survive it because that's who he was," Gwen said.
But John's body did not respond to treatment.
On July 4, 2009, at the age of 43, John died.
His death came just a little more than three months after the diagnosis. His mother said this is typical of the disease.
According to U.S. National Library of Medicine, the average survival rate is less than one year for those whose cancer cannot be removed with surgery or has spread beyond the pancreas.
Such was the case for Brandy Glick's husband, too.
After his diagnosis with the disease in August 2008, Dick L. Glick immediately scheduled a surgery. But the doctors realized his tumor was inoperable.
"We ran out of options very fast because his body didn't tolerate the chemo," Brandy said.
He died in December 2008.
A need for research
Gwen and Brandy now work with the Tulsa affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, or PANCAN. The national organization founded in 1999 works to advance research, support patients and create hope for those affected by the disease.
On Saturday, the Tulsa branch is hosting its first PurpleStride. The event, which seeks to raise money and awareness to support the fight against pancreatic cancer, will feature a 5k trail run and 1-mile walk, children's activities and live music.
Event organizers hope to raise $100,000.
The money is badly needed for research, Gwen and Brandy said.
According to PANCAN, the five-year relative survival rate for pancreatic cancer is 6 percent. For breast cancer, that rate is 90 percent, and for colon or rectum cancer, it is 65 percent.
According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 43,920 new cases of pancreatic cancer were expected in the U.S. in 2012. An estimated 37,390 deaths are expected in the same time period.
"We need better screening options to detect (pancreatic cancer) at an earlier stage," Brandy said.
The organization hopes to double the five-year survival rate to 12 percent by the year 2020.
Because the survival rate is so low, Gwen said it is often friends and family members of those affected by the disease who are left behind to speak for the cause.
"We're not a celebrity cancer," she said, speaking about the relative obscurity of the disease.
When her son was diagnosed, she didn't know anything about pancreatic cancer. Not much literature about the disease was available at doctors' offices, either, she said.
"It's really a shame," Gwen said. "I'm kind of ashamed that I was never aware of it ... It takes a tragedy in your life to make you aware."
Three years after his death, John is always on Gwen's mind. She and her husband still visit the cemetery regularly. She wears a necklace with the engraving, "You are always in my heart, my beloved son John." A frame with the words "The Boys" sits in her living room, carrying a picture of John with his dad and brother.
But her work for the cause - whether through PANCAN or a yearly fundraising golf tournament in his name or the John F. Henry Foundation that is on schedule to be established by early next year - is the strongest link to her son.
"It keeps him in our lives every day," she said.
Where: Turkey Mountain, 6806 S. Elwood.
When: Saturday. Opening ceremony will begin at 9 a.m., a 1-mile walk begins at 9:30 a.m. and the 5k timed trail run begins at 9:45 a.m. On-site registration starts at 8 a.m.
Cost: Advance registration is $10-$30. Costs increase by $5 on event day. To register in advance, visit tulsaworld.com/purplestride
Original Print Headline: Creating hope
Nour Habib 918-581-8369
Gwen Henry, a Tulsa resident, holds a photo of her final family picture that included her son John F. Henry (second from left in photo), who died three years ago of pancreatic cancer. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World
Gwen Henry wears a pendant in honor of her son John F. Henry, who died three years ago of pancreatic cancer. The five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is 6 percent. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World