People can live with this
Fritz Breitenbach is lucky to be alive. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer July 17, 2009, and is one of the 6 percent of people who is beating the odds.
Now he's working to raise awareness of the fourth-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.
"I wear my hat and purple garb whenever I can," he said. He visits Mayo Clinic to remind staff and patients "that, hey, people can live with this."
Breitenbach feels an obligation to speak out, standing on behalf of those who do not survive this deadly cancer.
"Pancreatic cancer doesn't have the number of advocates that some of the other cancers have," he says.
Three out of four people diagnosed die within a year, says the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Most pancreatic cancers are far advanced before symptoms trigger a medical visit and a diagnosis. Breitenbach had weight loss and stool changes. He said it's important to be your own advocate and be persistent when you know something's wrong.
"Hope and support is big. God bless my neighbors and friends, family, our church, especially our minister. They were incredible," he said.
After being diagnosed, Breitenbach underwent a "Whipple procedure" at Mayo Clinic to remove part of his pancreas, small intestine and gallbladder.
"It's pretty major stuff," he said. Half his pancreas was removed and the other half got radiation treatment to kill the cancer. Now, Breitenbach takes food-digestion pig hormones that his own pancreas would normally make.
He got chemotherapy to make the cancer cells more susceptible to radiation and about 30 radiation treatments. His last chemo was March 9, 2010, and he tries to do at least "one fun thing" every day to celebrate life.
During treatment, Breitenbach asked his oncologist for a short break "so I could hunt with my son ... I thought it might be the last time," he said. "I wasn't planning on anything long-term. I had set some goals for myself. I wanted to see my grandson's birthday — made that. I wanted to see my daughter graduate — that's May 5."
"My long-term goal is to make it through this thing," Breitenbach says.