This November, I have a great deal to be thankful for: I am beating pancreatic cancer. It has been more than five years since I was diagnosed with the most lethal of all cancers. November is also Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, so it's important to me that I help raise awareness about this disease and let people know there can be more survivors like me.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 45,000 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year and more than 38,000 will die. The overall survival rate is only 6 percent. There are no early detection tests, no effective long-term treatments, and unless caught in its earliest stages, no cure. And statistically, African Americans are more affected by this disease than other racial groups in the country.
Obviously, these facts are grim. However, I have never let these facts have a negative impact on me. I understand that it is difficult to remain hopeful after a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. It is a common reaction to think, "I am going to die." But I never felt that way. Pancreatic cancer is not a death sentence. I am living proof and so are people I know of who were diagnosed at stage IV and survived. I recognize that my diagnosis could have taken over my life and destroyed it, but I am determined to beat it.
I strongly believe my involvement in sports, both personally and professionally, has contributed to the physical and mental attitude I needed to meet the biggest challenge in my life, dealing with this disease. I have my mother to thank for the fact that I have always been involved in sports -- both personally on the field as an athlete, and professionally off the field in a sports-related job. I love to compete and I love to win. That is the same approach I am using to win the fight against pancreatic cancer.
As an athlete, I am very aware of my body. It was before a business trip that I knew something didn't seem quite right. I went to see my doctor and I promised him I would return for further testing. They found a mass on my pancreas and I quickly underwent surgery. Had I not listened to my body, I wouldn't be alive today. After the surgery, the doctor told me it wouldn't have gone as well had I not been in such good shape.
During this time, I heard about The Lustgarten Foundation from a series of curePC public service announcements on television. I was thrilled to see that every donation to the foundation goes right to research to detect the disease early and find a cure. Since then, I have attended their walks, where I have met other survivors and where thousands come together in the spirit of hope. I know their supporters participate in a wide variety of activities from bake sales to marathons to benefit the foundation. Taking action against this disease not only empowered me in my own battle, but it is critical in the race to find a cure. Anyone can get pancreatic cancer, and that's why we need everyone to join us in this important fight.
This fall, I held a special dinner with a close group of friends to mark my five-year anniversary. These friends have been incredible and I couldn't have gotten through this without them. I know I was very lucky to catch this disease early, and to work with a great medical team to get the right treatment at the right time. But my wonderful support network was there to remind me that I was not alone in this fight.
It has been said that the five-year mark is considered a success in battling this disease. But I am not waiting for my doctors to tell me I am cured. I tell myself I am cured, because I am looking forward to a very fulfilling life ahead and I plan to be around for a long time. I made sure that I maintained my positive outlook at every moment in this five-year process.
I have a lot to be thankful for this November. I am a living example that there is hope in beating the odds against pancreatic cancer. But we need to continue fighting for more research so that we can find a cure. I have hope we can. I am a competitor. And in the race against pancreatic cancer, I know together, we can win.
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