Bruce Platt recalls how his mom, Linda, liked to wear a T-shirt that sported a line from the Broadway musical Spamalot.
“It said, ‘I’m not dead yet.’ She wore it all the time,” the Somerton man said.
Wearing that tee was one of the ways his mother coped with pancreatic cancer, Platt said. She died in 2009 at age 67.
Pancreatic cancer is not a disease that a lot of people know about, Platt said during an interview at the Boyle Recreation Center, where he works with the after-school program. That bothered his mom.
So Platt, who had been his mother’s caregiver, promised her that he would work to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer. And, a man of his word, Platt is keeping that promise.
In fact, a significant accomplishment occurred on Oct. 24 when he and other supporters traveled to Harrisburg for a formal legislative ceremony to designate November as Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.
Platt was a key figure in the push for such a declaration. It resulted in House Resolution 437, and last week’s ceremony included state Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-170th dist.) and Sen. Mike Stack (D-5th dist.), Northeast lawmakers who supported the cause.
Bruce Platt has become immersed in the sad statistics of cancer of the pancreas, a large organ behind the stomach that releases enzymes into the intestines to help the body absorb foods, especially fats.
Only 6 percent of the people who have pancreatic cancer survive, he said. That’s the lowest survival rate of cancer victims. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Compared to the money spent on studying other cancers, he said, not a lot of dollars goes into searching for a cure. About 44,000 people will get it every year, and more than 37,000 will die within a year, Platt added.
The disease has taken the lives of Apple founder Steve Jobs, opera great Luciano Pavarotti and actors Patrick Swayze and Michael Landon, according to Robin Warshaw, spokeswoman for the Philadelphia affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
Platt’s mother lived four years and 10 months, he said. She fought hard. She had surgery to remove the cancer, but the success was limited.
“They can’t always get it all,” he said.
The advance of the disease couldn’t be stopped. “You can get to the point where there is no more treatment,” Platt said.
Linda Platt then participated in drug studies, he said.
“Every time I talk to someone who announces they have it, I know what they will be going through,” Platt said. “There’s no cure. There’s no test to see if you have it. The reason most people die within a year is that, by the time they find out, it’s very advanced.”
When his mother was sick, Platt researched the disease and found the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Because he was taking care of his mom, however, Platt had no time to be active in the organization.
“All I did was sign up for the e-mail list. I couldn’t go to events until after she passed away,” he said.
Since then, Platt has become very involved in the network’s Philadelphia affiliate, participating in events hosted by the organization, which joined him at last week’s ceremony in Harrisburg. He recently was named the affiliate’s advocacy coordinator.
Platt is involved in two upcoming events planned by the affiliate. The first, a Nov. 5 fund-raiser called PurpleStride, will begin near the Please Touch Museum in Fairmount Park. Supporters will take part in a timed run and a 5K walk, he said.
Purple is the designated color of pancreatic-cancer awareness, with roots in the formation of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network by several families of patients about 13 years ago, said Warshaw, the spokeswoman.
ldquo;They realized that they needed a color to identify the cause,” she explained. “Purple was the favorite color of one of the original founders, Pam Acosta Marquardt, who is still with the organization as director of donor and corporate relations.”
The PurpleStride fund-raiser is held by chapters across the country during the year to aid programs and research.
This is the third PurpleStride event that Platt has been part of with the Philly affiliate. Last year, according to Warshaw, the all-volunteer event attracted more than 3,000 participants who arranged for sponsors and raised more than $478,000 for pancreatic-cancer research. Platt served as food coordinator at last year’s PurpleStride.
“I got water and food donated,” he said.
The second event, called Purple Lights, will be held at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 20, at the Boyle Recreation Center, 13024 Stevens Road, in Somerton.
“It’s an hour of remembrance,” he said.
Purple lights will adorn either the rec-center field or the indoor basketball court, depending on the weather, Platt said,
“We’ll announce the names of people who died of the disease,” he explained.
Bruce Platt knows the sadness of losing a loved one to pancreatic cancer. But, as he promised his mother before her death, he’s doing all he can to make sure others know about the disease, and perhaps even join the quest for that elusive cure. ••
Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Taking action …
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s PurpleStride Philadelphia 2011, a timed run and 5K walk aimed at raising awareness of the disease and money to help find a cure, will begin and end at Memorial Hall, site of the Please Touch Museum, at 4231 Avenue of the Republic in Fairmount Park. It’ll be held on Saturday, Nov. 5. Registration begins at 7 a.m. The run is at 8:30 a.m., and the walk follows.
Philadelphia Flyer Ian Laperriere will attend as a special guest. There will be music, refreshments and a children’s play zone. For more information or to register, visit www.purplestride.org.