CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Nineteen years ago, Julie Fleshman’s father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 52.

Within four months, he would be dead.

“I was mad,” Fleshman said. “I couldn’t understand why nothing was being done, why there was no research and about that same time the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network was founded and I was very lucky to be hired as the very first employee.”

Eighteen years later, Fleshman’s push for better pancreatic cancer prevention and research brought her to West Virginia for the 1st time Monday for stops in both Charleston and Clarksburg to recognize Annette Fetty-Santilli, a West Virginia PanCAN community advocate.

Fetty-Santilli’s advocacy work, like Fleshman’s, is personal. Her brother died from pancreatic cancer in 2007 eight months after being diagnosed.

She and her daughter will again be in Washington, D.C. next month to lobby for additional research funding.

Currently, the five-year survival rate for a person with pancreatic cancer is nine percent. That’s up from 2011 when the five-year survival rate was six percent.

By 2020, the goal is a survivability rate of 12 percent — at least.

“It’s one of the deadliest cancers,” Fleshman said.

Pancreatic cancer is now the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, according to Fleshman.

Shauna Johnson/

Annette Fetty-Santilli, left, community advocate for Pancreatic Cancer Action Network – West Virginia, welcomed Julie Fleshman, CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, to West Virginia Monday during stops in Charleston and Clarksburg.

“It’s expected to become the 2nd leading cause (of cancer-related deaths) by 2020,” she told MetroNews.

“There’s an urgent need to raise dollars for research and raise the visibility and awareness so that, when people are touched by this disease or diagnosed, we can get them the help we need.”

While there are no early detection screenings for pancreatic cancer, there are some symptoms like unexplained weight loss, jaundice or early-onset adult diabetes.

“These are the types of things that, if you’re experiencing them — stomach pain, lower back pain — you should go in and talk to your doctor and talk about pancreatic cancer and make sure that they’re really checking you out potentially for this disease,” Fleshman said.

“The earlier it is diagnosed, the better options there are for treatment.”

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