In early July, Calgarian Leesa Dolynchuks's doctor made an unexpected household call.
He had bad news.
After almost a year suffering from prolonged abdominal pain, pressed by healthcare staff, took more tests and finally paid for a CAT scan out of pocket to speed up the process, Dolynchuk had responded.
"The doctor came and told me I had what they thought was cancer – and it completely changes your life," she said.
Her official diagnosis: Step 4 pancreatic cancer.
Surgery was scheduled a month later.
"It was a lot to spend time with my family and did everything I could before that surgery," she said.
"One of the lowest survival levels"
Michelle Capobianco, Executive Vice President of Pancreatic Cancer Canada, says it is important to raise awareness about the disease all the time, but especially on November 15, awareness of cancer in the pancreas cancer.
Although only 5,500 people a year are diagnosed in Canada, pancreatic cancer is expected to be the second largest cancer donor by 2020.
"It has one of the lowest survival rates of just five percent," said Capobianco.
"Ninety-two percent of Canadians are not diagnosed. Only 20 percent of the original persons diagnosed are eligible for surgery, and then only 20 percent of these people continue to survive the surgery and survive the disease."
"I told my children that I would not be cured"
Dolynchuk, 37-year-old wife and mother of two, said that after learning these heartbreaking facts came the hardest part. She had to talk to her children.
"You never know how much you want to share or how your children will take it," she said.
"At that time, I told my children that I would not be cured. I had just learned that I had four to six months to live, or up to 10 with kemo."
The conversation with her nine and 11 year olds went on how to expect.
"I tried to face the reality that I would not be there for her next Christmas. It would be the last I spent with them." I did not work well, "she said. "It was the most heartbreaking conversation I ever had."
Dolynchuk said it was important for her to be honest with her children.
"If it did not work well and I had four to six months, I did not want them to think all the time that mom would get better," she said.
"It gave me the most hope"
But after the heartbreak conversation, a new light started shining at Dolynchuk, and she and her family are gone Sunday to Vienna, where she will have specialist treatment for a pancreatic cancer.
"I heard the story of someone else who has been in Vienna and it gave me the biggest hope I've had all the time," she said, holding back tears.
"This person also had pancreatic cancer Stage 4 and he is in non-partial remission," she said. "The quality of this clinic is 47 percent for metastatic cancer. So I fully believe I'll go and I'll be well."
Dolynchuk said she hopes people will take time on Thursday to learn how pancreatic cancer is and how they can help find cures.
Capobianco said that pancreatic cancer is difficult to find (because the pancreas is behind the stomach) and even more difficult to diagnose due to the vague nature of the symptoms.
"It's a pain that will not go away between your shoulder blades, it's a mild feeling of nausea, fatigue, sleep discomfort, and some people get itchy skin," she said. "But as you can imagine, for some people it's a Monday."
Capobianco said that it is important for people who experience these symptoms to advocate for themselves because the disease is usually not diagnosed properly before it is already Step 4 and has metastatic – which means it spreads to other bodies.
"Go to our website, print the symptoms and take it to your doctor and say," This is what I'm afraid I have. Here are the things that may be misdiagnosed. Would you please send me for a CT scan or MRI because that's what I need to be comfortable, "she said.
Capobianco said that as pancreatic cancer occurs on the list of the most deadly cancers, researchers and foundations such as pancreatic cancer Canada cooperate.
"What we are most pleased about is a network we created here called PancOne," she said. "And so we took all the best from the excellence centers we know from across the country, sharing research and sharing funds. That means no waste of money, no duplicate research."
Capobianco said that between 2011 and 2015 there were 1,620 cases of cancers in the pancreas in Alberta. Of these cases, 56 percent were already metastatic in diagnosis.
"We know it's not a one-size fit-all"
To make a change for patients in pancreatic cancer throughout North America, they take a side out of breast cancer advocacy through their PanGen project.
"The goal is to better understand what drives pancreatic cancer so that they can begin to characterize cancer to find new treatments," she said.
Capobianco said that breast cancer has been targeted at estrogen receptor positive breast cancer and for attaching two subtypes and beyond.
"That's what we want to do for pancreatic cancer, start subtyping so we can find the right remedy for each person. Because we know it's not a one-size match-all."
She said the most important thing is that people need to know that they help people with the purchase time of diagnosis in support of cancer in pancreatic cancer.
"Getting so expensive when you have a pancreas cancer."