His personal cancer battle

It was dif­fi­cult for Bruce Platt to watch his moth­er suc­cumb to ag­gress­ive pan­cre­at­ic can­cer. But it in­spired him to push the Pennsylvania Le­gis­lature for a res­ol­u­tion to pro­mote aware­ness of the dis­ease.

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 jloftus@bsmphilly.com

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. 

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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