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Kendra Haywood, whose father died at age 71 after a 14-month struggle with pancreatic cancer, started a national non-profit that raises research money for the deadly disease.
Kendra Haywood still gets teary-eyed when describing her father's death. She can remember the details leading up to the moment he slipped away a little more than six years ago. She wishes she could share another dance with him like she did at her wedding.
“I got married one month before he died,” Haywood says, showing off a framed picture of a smiling Carl Bahneman. “I think he held out for that.”
Bahneman was 71 when he succumbed to pancreatic cancer, which is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S.
“Ninety-three percent [of patients] are gone within five years of diagnosis,” Haywood says. “More adults die from the disease than breast cancer.”
Haywood's loss prompted her to establish a charity called Alliance of Families Fighting Pancreatic Cancer (AFFPC), a nationwide organization operating out of her Palm Beach Gardens home.
She cites more startling statistics such as a 7.2 percent five-year survival rate. Plus, she adds that 70 percent of those diagnosed refuse treatment even though there is a protocol. “People think it's a death sentence,” she says.
Haywood, a 42-year-old wife and mother, has turned tragedy into triumph by leading the alliance into its third year and raising nearly $300,000 for Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where Dr. A. James Moser, her father's oncologist, leads a team of pancreatic surgeons.
“Things kept getting worse until we found Jim,” she says of Moser, who serves as executive director of the center's Institute for Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Surgery. “Even before [Moser] scanned him, he said, ‘I think he has pancreatic cancer.'”
Bahneman's 14-month battle began with severe stomach pain, rapid weight loss and yellowing eyes, three classic symptoms of the disease that often go misdiagnosed.
“The other doctors thought it was gallstones at first,” Haywood says. “And we, of course, didn't know what it was.”
Bahneman underwent chemotherapy to shrink a tumor on his pancreas so the extensive Whipple procedure could be performed to remove the benign part of the organ.“We really had hope along the way,” Haywood says.
The alliance aims to spread that message by changing the paradigm so patients have better attitudes, improved outcomes and a sense of empowerment.
“I've heard stories about doctors saying, ‘Call hospice,'” Haywood says. “So they'd go away and say, ‘There's no hope. I'm going to die anyway.' No. Get a second opinion. Go out and seek your options. I want people to think like that.”
The alliance's fundraiser, Transforming Pancreatic Cancer Treatment, embraces the notion of empowerment. The event will take place April 12 at Old Palm Golf Club. The non-profit welcomes members of other foundations and organizations to attend, as well as supporters of the alliance, especially family members whose loved ones have lost their lives to the disease.
“The survivors are the champions of this disease, but because there are so few, the family members have to stand up and be the champions,” Haywood says.
Dr. Ken Grey, a local acupuncturist who has a weekly radio show on WJNO-AM, has joined the non-profit's board of directors.
“Dr. Ken [Grey] will be our voice,” Haywood says.