Craig’s Cause Pancreatic Cancer Society
Written by The Rounds
After returning from a trip to Alaska, Craig Condon complained of acid reflux and an upset stomach. Although these ailments seem quite normal and common to the average person, Craig wanted to ensure that everything was alright and made an appointment to see a doctor. Following his appointment, he was prescribed Zantac to treat his acid reflux. As a very fit man who lived a healthy life, Craig’s family was positive that these symptoms were nothing out of the ordinary.
One morning following Craig’s previous symptoms, he woke up and was as yellow as the sun, as his daughter Stefanie described and his stool had turned white and his urine was dark. After explaining all of these new symptoms to his doctor, Craig was sent for tests and bloodwork for hepatitis because he had recently travelled to small communities in the Yukon that didn’t have water treatment centers. Although, even Craig himself ensured that he had something much worse after googling his symptoms and saw they lined up with those of pancreatic cancer.
After these tests came back negative, Craig’s doctor thought that the lab had made a mistake and sent him back for the second round of bloodwork. The family asked for a referral to the private MRI clinic. He had his appointment on Wednesday morning and by Thursday morning, they received Craig’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.
After the diagnoses
After his official diagnosis in late July of 2006, his family was quite shocked at the news they had heard and were faced with two options to treat his cancer. His daughter Stefanie explained that “you don’t have a lot of time. You’re diagnosed and you either have life-altering surgery that may cure you. Or you don’t and we had to have faith in the treatment options available, at that time, to extend his life.” Those decisions are ones that you have to make almost immediately.
Stefanie explained that they didn’t have a lot of time to digest the information and at that time, resources and support for patients with pancreatic cancer did not exist in Canada. She and her family had to turn to the United States to find the information that was lacking in their own country from both advocacy organizations and research institutions.
The family felt the pressure to make a decision between going through with the surgery that had a high morbidity rate or not. After tough deliberation, Craig ended up having the surgery to essentially restructure his entire digestive system. Although the surgery is risky, Craig was lucky to be in a high volume hospital in the hands of a great surgeon who had never had a patient go to ICU and had never lost a patient, which at the time were great statistics.
Following the surgery, an infection developed, which is one of the risks. After restructuring everything, the infection had broken down tissues inside his body. Everything that they had sutured together continued to pull apart. Everything happened so fast. From the date he was diagnosed to his death, was a span of approximately 8 weeks and he ended up passing away at the age of 63 due to his surgery to treat his pancreatic cancer.
The beginning stages
After Craig’s passing, his daughter Stefanie, who works as a full-time school teacher, learned many lessons about what could have been improved with her dad’s situation and decided she wanted to do something to honour him.
They opened a trust with ScotiaBank that housed all of the memorial donations for Craig. The family did not want to see these donations go to a big charity. They wanted to put 100% of donations into the hands of researchers.
As they began to gather memorial donations, Stefanie’s friend Shelley suggested that it would be a good idea to create a web page describing what she was planning to do with the donations. This way, people could have direct access to the page to see where the money was planning to go and learn more about the advocacy and awareness that this type of cancer needs.
People outside of Craig’s family and friends began stumbling upon their web page after searching for pancreatic cancer online. Shelley then suggested that since their page was gaining so much traction, it would be a good idea to add some additional pages. This was just the beginning of what is now known as Craig’s Cause Pancreatic Cancer Society. One year later they hosted a cycling event that raised over $10,000 in memorial donations and had approximately 100 cyclists come out for the event in support of her dad.
Stefanie claims that she has her hands in everything at Craig’s Cause and that her voluntary work has quickly turned into another full-time job over the past 14 years. She continues to ensure that the society is moving forward by examining their current programs and making sure they have the funds to support them.
When looking back at the beginning stages of the society, there were not many research projects being funded. There were no researchers interested in taking on pancreatic cancer because it was not something that was well funded. As they began offering grants for research funding, they also saw a common trend in that no one was applying for them.
Craig’s Cause Pancreatic Cancer Society today
Since the beginning, many things have improved in the world of pancreatic cancer and the interest it has gained from donors and supporters. Today, Craig’s Cause Pancreatic Cancer Society has a national reach and offers programs that are funded through charitable donations. They have been lucky to receive unrestricted grants and corporate sponsorships to cover their operating costs and events hosted by Craig’s Cause Pancreatic Cancer Society.
One of Craig’s Causes’ biggest accomplishments to date, as highlighted by Stefanie, is their ability to offer direct support. After going through what her family did, they didn’t want anyone to feel left alone and not know where to turn when faced with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Through their Ask a Doctor program, Support4Caregivers program and patient grants, they are able to directly help patients and caregivers.
Stefanie also prides herself on getting the healthcare community out of their silos and talking more about pancreatic cancer. This has been something that has come a long way since the lack of funding once received, but through advocacy and awareness, more people are realizing the importance of talking about this type of cancer.
However, these accomplishments would not be possible without the partnerships that Craig’s Cause has developed. Working with organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society and The Rounds (also Beatrice Hunter Research Institute, Pancreatic Cancer Canada, New Brunswick Research Institute) has been essential in bringing everyone together in support of the ultimate goal of ending pancreatic cancer.
Education, advocacy & awareness
Throughout her time developing Craig’s Cause Pancreatic Cancer Society, Stefanie has been focused on education, advocacy and awareness. Educating those on the early signs of pancreatic cancer including upset stomach, acid reflux and indigestion is important to her because her dad’s early signs and symptoms were misdiagnosed and not caught by his doctor. Catching signs and symptoms early is key because once you see jaundice and white stool, it might be too late.
One point that Stefanie made in regards to pancreatic cancer is that it is the only cancer that has single digits for survival (approximately 8%) and the number of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer per year is 5,800. This number is low compared to other cancers and Stefanie explains that it is a large reason behind why they receive low funding. When funders are deciding where to invest their money, they generally look at the number of people diagnosed, however, researchers emphasize the need to look at the number of lives lost instead.
Although these numbers seem discouraging, Stefanie ensures that there is a lot more research on the horizon. In the past seven years, she has seen huge changes in the world of pancreatic cancer with an increase in awareness, funding and research projects.
Rebranding Craig’s Cause
Craig’s Cause Pancreatic Cancer Society has continued to grow since Craig’s passing in 2006 and does not plan to slow down anytime soon. With a rebrand on the horizon, Craig’s Cause Pancreatic Cancer Society plans to unveil a new logo, mission, vision and website. They are evaluating their current programs to make them bigger and better by creating both a business and strategic plan. Stefanie explains that they are planning a soft unveiling in September and will continue with more promotion during Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month in November. In addition to their rebrand, Craig’s Cause Pancreatic Cancer Society is working with The Rounds to offer an e-learning module that will be launching in the near future and during a time where there is a significant need to complete professional development opportunities online.
To stay up to date with Craig’s Cause Pancreatic Cancer Society, visit their website at www.craigscause.ca and join their pancreatic cancer community on The Rounds to learn more about their great work therounds.com/pancreatic-cancer/home