Pancreatic cancer affects more than 100 South Dakotans each year according to the National Cancer Institute. The disease only has a survival rate of eight percent for people diagnosed at any stage, but when detected in earlier stages, that rate jumps to 32 percent.
As earlier detection can lead to a better chance at survival, the South Dakota State Capitol will turn purple on Sunday, Oct. 28 at 3 p.m. to raise awareness of the disease. The event, “Light the Capitol Purple for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness,” will feature a keynote speaker and musical tributes taking place in the Capitol rotunda.
John Moisan, an organizer of the event and a survivor of pancreatic cancer, said that the goal for the event is to encourage people to create relationships with their doctors. The disease isn’t easily detected, and a cause for pancreatic cancer hasn’t been identified yet. Moisan said that knowing the signs of the disease can be the difference between life and death.
“The earlier you catch it, the better chance you have to survive,” he said. Light the Capitol aims to point people toward being proactive when it comes to the disease. Moisan added that his own diagnosis came during a routine checkup.
“My doctor insisted on a CAT scan,” he said. “And I said, ‘I feel fine, I’m healthy.’ It was in the top-two most terrifying things in my life.”
Moisan had to go through 26 rounds of chemotherapy, and had surgery to remove malignant spots in his pancreas and spleen.
“I’ve decided to use this opportunity to tell people about this terrible disease,” he said. This is the fourth year that Light the Capitol is taking place. This year, the event will highlight various foundations, such as the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and the Lustgarten Foundation, that work to fund research toward pancreatic cancer prevention.
“I’ve lived through it and I’m trying to pay it back,” Moisan said. The event will also feature a keynote from Dr. Gary Timmerman, a Sioux Falls surgeon who operated on Moisan. Moisan called him one of the “top-20” pancreatic cancer experts in the country.
The T.F. Riggs High School Chamber Choir and violinist Moriah Gross will also offer musical performances.
Moisan believes that a cure for cancer will be found eventually, even if not in his lifetime. Until then, he said, it’s up to individuals to be wary of the symptoms.
“It doesn’t matter who you are if you don’t pay attention,” he said. “If you’re going to fight cancer, you’ve got to know what it is.”