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Cancer leads couple to Congress

July 17, 2013
By J.T. Whitehouse , Town Crier

Randy and Vicky Cramer of Boardman, have become politically active when it comes to pancreatic cancer. The couple had recently visited Washington, D.C., where Randy gave testimony about his own ongoing battle with the disease.

"We met with senators and congressmen," he said. "Our mission was to thank them for passing the Recalcitrant Cancer Act last year and to encourage continued funding."

Randy and Vicky were part of a 600-member advocacy group that represented every state. The goal was to push for ending the sequestration that has been holding up cancer research funding this year.

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Photo by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Randy and Vicky Cramer of Boardman, have become advocates for funding pancreatic cancer research and after it touched their lives, they have learned to live life to the fullest.

For the Boardman couple, pancreatic cancer was an issue that jumped into their lives. Randy was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer on Sept. 14, 2012.

"It was in operable and was spreading," he said.

He said with pancreatic cancer there is a marker in the blood called CA19-9 that is an indicator of how active the cancer is. The normal range is between 0 to 37, but in Randy's case it was at 4,340.

Randy was still strong enough to undergo an aggressive chemotherapy program. He started the treatments in November and next week will take his 16th treatment.

"Most people can only handle four or five treatments," he said.

The chemotherapy drains him for days afterwards, but he said he is having good results. His CA19-9 marker is at 17, but he realizes that he will never be cancer free. All he and his doctors can do is keep the numbers down.

"I am living with cancer; it is not living with me," he said.

After being diagnosed last year, Randy and Vicky have done a lot of research and have found startling facts. There have been no breakthroughs in diagnosing or treating the cancer over the past 40 years. In fact, he said most people who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are in stage IV, which means their chances of survival are very slim. He found that 74 percent of those diagnosed die within one to five years.

He also found that the government only spends two percent of its cancer research funding on pancreatic cancer and the sequestration has held up those funds this year. That is why the group of survivors, caregivers and family members headed to Washington, D.C., two weeks ago. Randy and Vicky were part of the 600, of which 15 were from Ohio.

"We represented our region," Vicky said.

During their visit, they were able to meet with state representatives to offer testimony in why the funds are needed to continue research. Randy said at the present rate, pancreatic cancer will be the number two killer - second only to lung cancer - by 2020.

Randy said he was one of the lucky ones to have good health care insurance to handle the $57,000 per month cost of treatment. He said many don't have that luxury and it is a life or death situation.

"There is no early detection to identify this disease and 74 percent of those diagnosed with stage IV don't live beyond the first 12 months," Randy said. "A mere 6 percent live to five-plus years and 181,000 people have been lost to this disease in the past five years. This is the greatest country in the world and these stats are not acceptable. Many advances have been made surrounding other cancers, due to funded research and these have seen increases in longevity of 16 to 30 percent. There have been no advances in pancreatic cancer in the past 40 years. With these stats, I thanked our elected officials for their support in the past, present and the future. I told them that the odds are I won't be back, but I fully intend to beat the odds, and I will return in the years to come to do it all over again."

In the meantime, Randy and Vicki just enjoy their time together. Both owned motorcycles, but the chemotherapy treatments made riding a chore. They sold their two motorcycles and bought a new Harley Davidson three-wheeler that is easier to handle. It also allows the couple to take off and enjoy life.

"We live each day to the fullest," Vicky said. "We love as much as we can and laugh as often as we can."

Besides taking life one day at a time, the couple plan to stay involved with the funding and research issues surrounding pancreatic cancer. Randy said it is part of his mission in life.

"If I had it all to do over, I wouldn't change a thing," he said. "I am at peace with myself and God. I am in no hurry to go as there is still more work to be done. It's just good to know the message is getting out there."



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