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Stronger together: Helping a loved one diagnosed with pancreatic cancer

(BPT) - Thirty-nine years ago, Hector and Nora met right after high school, marrying just eight months later - and have been inseparable ever since. Over the decades, the two have grown together with their family, now living in Los Angeles close to their two grown children. The strength of this family bond is now helping Hector face the biggest challenge of his life - being diagnosed with stage IV, metastatic pancreatic cancer.

For Hector, the first sign that something wasn't right was when he started having stomach problems, which seemed to occur with each meal he ate. After several doctor and hospital visits over the course of months, Hector was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer - the cancer had spread (or metastasized) beyond his pancreas to other parts of the body.

"We both knew what it meant," says Nora, referring to the seriousness of the diagnosis. But, the pair decided they were going to face the challenge together, "We're going to fight it. We're going to do everything we can."

From that moment, Nora became Hector's strongest advocate and caregiver.

What is pancreatic cancer?

The most common form of pancreatic cancer is Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma (PDAC), which is also one of the most deadly forms of cancer as the third leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.[i],[ii] PDAC is one of the hardest to detect cancers because there are often no noticeable symptoms in its initial stages and symptoms can appear similar to other diseases. So, PDAC is difficult to diagnose early.[iii] It is also one of the most difficult to treat of all solid tumor cancers as the cancer can spread quickly and invade surrounding tissues and organs.[iii] Overall, people diagnosed with PDAC face a poor prognosis with a five-year survival rate of just 12.5%.[iv]

As much as the impact on physical health, living with PDAC can negatively impact a person's psychological and emotional well-being.[v] The condition causes significant stress for patients and their loved ones,[v] making it so important to have a strong support system when coping with this disease.

And people living with PDAC experience sometimes serious symptoms, including significant weight loss.[vi]

Advances in treatment options for PDAC have been limited over the past few decades, but researchers continue to work toward developing new approaches with the potential to increase survival rates.[vii]

How you can help a loved one with pancreatic cancer

For the past two years, Nora has been Hector's caregiver, learning valuable lessons about how to be supportive throughout this difficult time. "One person alone cannot handle this disease," Nora observes. "Support is really important."

Nora offers these tips for others to help care for a loved one:

Become an advocate for your loved one. Be present at all doctor visits, take detailed notes and ask questions. Help your loved one track symptoms and other factors recommended by your health care provider.

Educate yourself. Ask questions and do research to help your family become more informed about the disease, treatment options, and how to cope with symptoms and side effects of medications. For example, Nora learned about the importance of nutrition for people with pancreatic cancer, and spoke up to Hector's doctor about it.

Take care of yourself. If you don't care for your own physical and emotional health, it's harder to be there for your loved one. Nora finds listening to music and going for hikes give her a break and helps clear her head. "It's important to make time for yourself as a caregiver," says Nora. "By taking care of yourself, you'll be able to support your loved one."

Get organized. From maintaining an appointment calendar and getting a pill organizer to track medications, staying organized can help relieve the stress of caring for someone else.

Stay positive. Although Hector and his family are coping with a very difficult diagnosis of metastatic pancreatic cancer, Nora believes in the power of positivity. She makes it a point to plan family events like concerts to give everyone something to look forward to. "Don't give up," Nora advises. "There's always hope."

You can learn more about Hector and Nora's story by watching this video.

Sponsored by Ipsen Biopharmaceuticals, Inc.

[i] What Is Pancreatic Cancer? American Cancer Society. Accessed 5 October 2023. Available at:

[ii] Cancer Stat Facts: Common Cancer Sites. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Accessed 20 June 2023. Available at:

[iii] PDQ® Adult Treatment Editorial Board. PDQ Pancreatic Cancer Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated 5 May 2023. Available at: Accessed 20 June 2023. [PMID: 26389396]

[iv] Cancer Stat Facts: Pancreatic Cancer. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Accessed 20 June 2023. Available at:

[v] Mazzella Ebstein AM, Joseph SJ, Hernandez M. Psychological stress and pancreatic cancer patients: a qualitative systematic review protocol. JBI Evid Synth. 2020 Mar;18(3):576-582. doi: 10.11124/JBISRIR-D-18-00006. PMID: 32197017; PMCID: PMC7513383.

[vi] Gärtner S, Krüger J, Aghdassi AA, Steveling A, Simon P, Lerch MM, Mayerle J. Nutrition in Pancreatic Cancer: A Review. Gastrointest Tumors. 2016 May;2(4):195-202. doi: 10.1159/000442873. Epub 2016 Jan 8. PMID: 27403414; PMCID: PMC4924449.

[vii] Principe DR, Underwood PW, Korc M, Trevino JG, Munshi HG and Rana A (2021) The Current Treatment Paradigm for Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma and Barriers to Therapeutic Efficacy. Front. Oncol. 11:688377. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2021.688377.

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