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Giving Something Back: Can One Person Make a Difference?

by Renita Van Dusen

“If I leave this Earth, I want to leave this Earth just knowing I’ve tried to give something back and tried to do something worthwhile with myself,” Patrick Swayze was quoted, in an interview with Barbara Walters this past January, having battled pancreatic cancer for over a year. Sadly, Patrick Swayze passed away yesterday from pancreatic cancer at age 57 — the same age my mom, Ann Schommer, was when she died from pancreatic cancer four years ago.

Pancreatic cancer is the most lethal cancer in the United States*. Most people with pancreatic cancer don’t live beyond 6 months from diagnosis. I was lucky. My mom lived seven. This year, over 42,000 people will be diagnosed with the disease and 35,000 will die. Yet, this cancer receives the least funding of all the major cancers – a mere two percent of the National Cancer Institute’s annual research budget – far too low, given the severity of the disease.

What a great quote from Swayze. Giving something back: that is what I have been inspired to do, mostly by my brothers, who, four years ago after my mother’s death, rode their bikes across the United States to raise money and awareness for pancreatic cancer in honor of my mom. How did I help? I used my expertise in branding and design and helped my brothers create a fundraising effort that continues to this day. Back then, we called it PurpleRide for Mom. Today, it is PurpleRide Twin Cities. On the original ride, we raised $30,000 ourselves. this past Sunday, we raised over $225,000 and had over 1400 participants in the event. In the past four years, we have raised nearly one million dollars for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

When I work to raise money and awareness for pancreatic cancer, I often ask myself, “Can one person make a difference?” My answer now is a resounding “yes”. One person – one family – one great Twin Cities community – CAN make a huge difference. One million dollars of a difference. Thank you, Twin Cities!

My daughter and me honoring my mom at PurpleRide Twin Cities on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2009

My daughter and me honoring my mom at PurpleRide Twin Cities on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2009

*Statistics from the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.