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June 02, 2014 06:15 PM

Combating Pancreatic Cancer

Fewer people are expected to die over the next 20 years from breast, prostate and colon cancer. But health experts believe more people will die from pancreatic cancer over the next two decades. New figures shows pancreatic cancer is expected to be one of the top cancer killers in the country by 2030.

Many parents dream of watching their children graduate from college. This spring, Valerie Merry wasn't sure she could keep that promise to her daughter.

"I promised her I would make it to graduation," Valerie Merry said. "I was sick that morning, and it was a tough trip." 

Doctors diagnosed Merry with pancreatic cancer in February. At first, she thought she had a bladder or kidney infection.

"I just felt like I had the flu except it wasn't going away. I probably had it for a couple weeks," Merry said. "Then I became jaundiced, and at that point we knew something was up," Merry said.

Since then, Merry has had four surgeries and is undergoing chemotherapy. She's spent nearly a month in the hospital.

"It's very difficult. It's evil, wicked stuff," Merry said.

But Merry was actually lucky compared to many pancreatic cancer patients. Some of them aren't even able to undergo surgery because the cancer has spread so much.

"The problem is we find it late most of the time. There isn't a screening test that's approved for the general population to find it early on," Avera Medical Group Oncologist Dr. Heidi McKean said.

Dr. Heidi McKean also says many patients don't have symptoms until the cancer has already spread to another organ.

The symptoms of pancreatic cancer can also be very subtle and may include abdominal or back pain, dark urine, weight loss or jaundice.

"We need to find it earlier. We need to have better treatments. The treatments for pancreatic cancer haven't changes a lot for a while," McKean said.

McKean is optimistic about Merry's cancer fight. She made it to her daughter's graduation in Arizona last month, and hopes to make many more memories with her husband and two children.

"They're still young. They're 21 and 24, and I think they're just in the beginning of their grown-up years. I want to see them have families and kids. I want to raise those grandbabies with them," Merry said.

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