Pancreatic cancer vigil held to raise awareness

COEUR d'ALENE - It was only a dozen people Sunday night, but they hope to start generating a lot of awareness about a cancer that too often is forgotten by the public but kills quickly.

Members of the Inland Northwest affiliate of the national nonprofit Pancreatic Cancer Action Network gathered in front of the Kootenai County administrative building to participate in the national PurpleLight Vigil.

It was one of 50 to 60 such vigils Sunday night nationwide, organized to honor those who are battling pancreatic cancer and those who have already lost the battle.

Karen Frejlach, 61, of Coeur d'Alene, is a four-year survivor of pancreatic cancer, and she attended the vigil with her husband Ken.

As a cancer, she said, "It's often looked over. There's no dollars for research, so we're no further today than we were 40 years ago" in finding treatment and early detection methods.

She said she participated in the vigil to raise awareness about pancreatic cancer, which often goes undiagnosed for too long.

She also wanted to give those diagnosed and their family some hope for survival.

"I'm walking proof," she said.

Frejlach shared her story of survival with the others at the vigil.

Alex Monteiro of Coeur d'Alene lost his mother-in-law to pancreatic cancer in 2008, seven months after she was diagnosed.

People usually have approximately six months to live after being diagnosed, he said.

"I think that makes is difficult to try and fight," he said.

He said 44,000 are diagnosed every year in the U.S., and 38,000 of them will die.

"There's a 6 percent five-year survival rate," said Monteiro.

Kathy Hlebichuk lost her sister to pancreatic cancer in July 2000, seven months after being diagnosed.

"We just don't get any research dollars," said Hlebichuk, a Post Falls resident and the network's Inland Northwest affiliate coordinator.

"There is no early detection for this disease," Hlebichuk said.

She said research for pancreatic cancer is needed and long overdue.

"It's just been kind of pushed aside," Hlebichuk said. "It deserves the same recognition as the other cancers," such as breast cancer.

Along with more funding for the cancer, Hlebichuk said, more research is needed to help doctors detect it early and improve treatment.

She hopes the vigil raises some awareness.

"Nobody hears about pancreatic cancer until it touches their life," said Hlebichuk.

More information about the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is at www.pancan.org. A local contact is Terri Capozzo, email: tcapozzo@pancanvolunteer.org.

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