LAKE SUCCESS, N.Y. — Pancreatic cancer is a terrifying diagnosis, and each year 62,000 Americans get the devastating news. That’s 170 people diagnosed every day.
But as CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reports, advances in research and science are offering new hope.
“My wife was really responsible for making me get help. Normally, I would just ignore the symptoms,” Luis Vargas told McLogan.
Vargas, of New Hyde Park, is a hiker, mountain climber and father of four. His concerned family noticed a year ago his indigestion, weight loss, jaundice and reflux.
“Obviously, when I first found out my diagnosis, there was a shock,” Vargas said.
Pancreatic cancer is largely incurable and very aggressive. The five year survival rate is 9 percent.
“The key is early diagnosis,” said Dr. Sandeep Anantha, a surgical oncologist at the Northwell Health Cancer Institute.
Anantha was part of a team that in one year saved Vargas’ life. He was able to withstand complicated surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
“A year ago today, I was finishing my first round of chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer,” Vargas said on a recent video from atop a mountain.
“I’m overjoyed and I feel very blessed,” he added.
Doctors say 63,000 Americans will be diagnosed this year, and this decade pancreatic cancer will become the second-leading cause of cancer death, after lung cancer.
But it does not have to mean a death sentence.
“There is hope for pancreatic cancer. We have come a long way,” Anantha said. “The science has advanced. Patients are tolerating the chemotherapy and the surgery very well.”
“I still have to try to live in the day that I’m in and do the best I can,” Vargas said.
Vargas just returned from his latest Colorado hike, in time to raise awareness and funds for pancreatic cancer research at theat Jones Beach on Sunday.
“So the walk on Sunday is a celebration of patients like Luis, and also we want to remember patients that we lost,” said Linda Tantawi, CEO of the Lustgarten Foundation.
“This is the reality right now. Embrace that, enjoy it, and live it,” Vargas said.
CLICK HERE for more information about the walk this weekend.