In early July, a doctor of Callegian Leesa Dolynchuk made an unexpected phone call.
He had bad news.
After nearly a year of suffering from persistent abdominal pain, pushing for answers from healthcare professionals, taking more tests and finally paying for a CAT scan out of the pocket to speed up the process, Dolin & Dick had answers.
"The doctor came and told me that I have what they think is cancer – and that changes your life completely," she said.
Its official diagnosis: Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
The surgery was determined a month later.
"It was a long time with my family doing everything I could before the surgery time," she said.
"One of the lowest survival rates"
Michelle Capobianco, CEO of Pancreatic Cancer Canada, says it is important to raise awareness for the disease all the time, but especially on November 15, Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day.
Although only 5,500 people a year are diagnosed in Canada, pancreatic cancer is expected to be the second largest cancer by 2020.
"There is one of the lowest survival rates at only 5 percent," Capobianco said.
"Ninety-three percent of diagnosed Canadians do not survive … Only 20 percent of the original people diagnosed are diagnosed 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 heal"
Dulinczuk, a 37-year-old woman and mother of two, says after learning these heartbreaking facts, which reached the most difficult place. She had to talk to her children.
"You never know how much you want to share or how your kids are going to take it," she said.
"So I told my children that I was not healed, only I was told I had 4 to 6 months to live, or up to 10 with chemotherapy."
The conversation with her nine- and eleven-year-old children was what to expect.
"I tried to deal with the reality that I would not be there at their next Christmas, it's going to be the last I spent with them, it did not go very well," she said. "That was the most rude conversation I had."
Dolenc said it was important for her to be honest with her children.
"If it did not go well and I did four to six months, I did not want them to think that this mother was still going to get better," she said.
"It gave me the greatest hope"
But since she had this heart talk, a new light had begun to shine in Dolincheck, and she and her family were on Sunday for Vienna, where she would take care of the pancreatic cancer clinic.
"I heard the story of someone else who was in Vienna and it gave me the greatest hope I had all the time," she said, holding back tears.
"This person also had stage 4 pancreatic cancer and is in a state of partial remission," she said. "The success rate of this clinic is 47% for metastatic cancer, so I totally believe that I am going to be cured."
Dolenc said she hopes people will take the time on Thursday to learn about pancreatic cancer and how they can help find drugs.
Symptoms are vague
Capobianco said pancreatic cancer is difficult to find (because the pancreas is behind the abdomen) and even more difficult to diagnose because of the ambiguous nature of the symptoms.
"It's a pain that will not go between your shoulder blades, it's a slight feeling of nausea, fatigue, sleep problems, and some people who get itchy skin," she said. "But as you can imagine, for some people this Monday."
Capobianco said it is important for people experiencing these symptoms to support themselves because more often than not, the disease is not properly diagnosed until it has been in stage 4 and has metastasis – that is it has spread to other organs.
"Go to our website, print out the symptoms and take it to your doctor and say, 'This is what I'm afraid I have.' Here's the stuff that could be misdiagno like.You can send me a CT scan or MRI because that's what I need to be comfortable , "she said.
Capobianco said that as pancreatic cancer crawls a list of the most deadly cancers, researchers and foundations like pancreatic cancer in Canada are teaming up.
"What we are most excited about is a network we created here called PancOne," she said. "And so we brought all the good from the centers of excellence that we know from all over the country, where they share research and they share money, meaning no money is wasted, there is no double research."
Capobianco said that, between 2011 and 2015, there were 1,620 cases of pancreatic cancer diagnosed in Alberta. Of those cases, 56% were already metastases in diagnosis.
"We know it's not one size fits all"
To make a change for pancreatic cancer patients across North America, they take a page out of the book of breast cancer advocates through their PanGen project.
"The goal is to better understand what motivates pancreatic cancer so that they can begin to characterize the cancer to find new therapies," she said.
Capobianco said that with breast cancer there has been targeted treatment for estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer for bracket closure of both types and beyond.
"This is what we want to do for pancreatic cancer, start sub typing so that we can find the right medication for each person that we know is not one of the appropriate size."
According to her, the most important, people should know that in support of pancreatic cancer research are helping people with diagnostic time to buy.
"Which makes it so expensive when you have pancreatic cancer."