McALLEN ‌—‌ ‌The UTRGV School of Medicine hosted “Purple Night” at the UTRGV Biomedical Research Facility on Sunday in an effort to raise awareness for pancreatic cancer.

Kathryn Gilbert Craig, a 66-year-old nine-year survivor of pancreatic cancer was among those in attendance at the event who shared her testimony with the audience.

“I strive to be a beacon of hope for people with pancreatic cancer and to educate on the symptoms of pancreatic cancer, because if you treat it early it is something that can be corrected,” Gilbert Craig said at the event. “I am in remission and I’ll probably never be cured. … but I’ve been doing very well.”

Shown from left are Dr. Gurdial Singh, Michael Hocker, dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine, and Kathryn Gilbert Craig, a nine-year survivor of pancreatic cancer. The panel shared the latest in treatment options, how the SOM is contributing to the cause and personal testimonies about how the disease has affected their lives. (Alejandra Yanez | The Monitor)

She said she joined a support group of others with pancreatic cancer, many of whom have died due to the disease. She now leads the group with her husband.

“There is hope after pancreatic cancer but there’s a lot of work to be done, and if you’re a medical student … you have so much to give the world,” Gilbert Craig said as she addressed the students in attendance.

Specialists from the region, country and world were in attendance to help the students and community of the Rio Grande Valley learn the early detection symptoms of pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the country and is usually not detected by its victims until late in its stages.

While its preliminary symptoms are fairly vague and can also be related to other issues within the abdomen and gastrointestinal tract, the most common symptoms include pain in the abdomen or back, weight loss, jaundice, which is yellowing of  the skin and eyes, loss of appetite, nausea, changes in stools and recent-onset diabetes.

Alan Kosten is the chairman of the Kosten Pancreatic Cancer Foundation, which he created after his brother Herb died of pancreatic cancer 11 months after his diagnosis.

Kosten joined the conversation virtually from Memphis and has dedicated the foundation to donating money for research on pancreatic cancer, with a five-year survival rate of just 10%.

Michael Hocker, dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine, said the university’s role in this cause is “transforming the health of the Valley and not just the Valley but beyond. … and how do we transform the health of the Valley, that’s through educating.”

Michael Hocker, dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine, presents on the advancements and research that UTRGV is participating in to help cure pancreatic cancer during “Purple Night” Sunday at the Biomedical Research Facility in McAllen. (Alejandra Yanez | The Monitor)

About 15 students from the school were present for the event and participated in the night by presenting doctors, researchers and specialists from around the world for this cause.

Nadeem Zafar, MD, professor at the University of Washington, said it is important to reference the pandemic when talking about the war on pancreatic cancer. He said many patients did not seek aid during the pandemic and also noted the burnout of nurses and medical professionals in the field.

Zafar added that the burnout would only continue to grow and urged the next generation of doctors and nurses to take the initiative and educate themselves on these cancers.

Dr. Gurdial Singh also presented on survivors he has treated with the drug Satcon during a clinical trial and spoke on how a long life is possible with awareness of symptoms.

An estimated 60,000 people get diagnosed with pancreatic cancer yearly and of those, about 50,000 will die of the disease, this fact is why researchers are working so hard to find a cure.

For more information on pancreatic cancer and its symptoms, visit the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s website.

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