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Matt Dallek's Letter to Friends

April 21, 2008

Dear Family, Friends, and Colleagues:

Please forgive the mass email. As I mentioned to a few of you, I am planning to go on a 60-mile bike ride through the civil war battlefields of Maryland in early September. I am doing so to raise money for pancreatic cancer research at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore.

There is nothing organized about this fundraising drive—pancreatic cancer research is woefully underfunded, an unloved orphan in cancer research, so it’ll be me riding with a few friends while trying to raise money for an important cause. I hope that you will consider contributing, and please send this email on to any friends and colleagues who you think might be interested.

When a surgeon at George Washington told me in April 2007 that a CT scan revealed that I had a large mass on my pancreas, it turned my world upside down. I didn’t know much about “pancreatic cancer,” but I knew enough: If I had had adenocarcinoma (far and away the most common form of PC), I probably would be dead within six months, at 38. The five-year survival rate for people with adenocarcinoma of the pancreas is five percent. It is, simply put, the most aggressive and deadly form of cancer and the fourth-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Virtually everybody who has it dies quickly.

The first two surgical specialists we saw weren’t terribly optimistic. The first one was tentative, refusing to make any solid predictions about my tumor.  The second one, I felt, handed down a death sentence, saying the mass was definitely a tumor, and that it indeed could very well be adenocarcinoma.

Dr. Cameron, Heather Hall and MattHaving sat in a hospital room and having been told I may have adenocarcinoma of the pancreas, I have some perspective on what it’s like for thousands of Americans who are told, in essence, that they have six months to live and that there’s little modern medicine can do for them. I want to raise money for Hopkins for three reasons: First, my surgeon at Hopkins, Dr. John Cameron, was the first doctor to look at my films and flat-out tell me that I was “going to live a long life.” He gave me hope. And I had a good outcome after undergoing major surgery at Hopkins.

Matt and Dr. HrubanSecond, beyond my personal affinity for Dr. Cameron, Hopkins’s pancreatic cancer research team, which is led by Dr. Ralph Hruban, is among the best in the world, and I can’t think of a better investment if you want to fight this horrific disease. Dr. Hruban’s team is furiously working to find mechanisms for detecting pancreatic cancer in its earliest stages (when it’s more treatable). Hopkins’s researchers are also seeking to understand the genetic and environmental causes of PC so treatments can be drastically improved. "Johns Hopkins also has a very active research interest in islet cell tumors of the pancreas, which are quite rare and are distinct from the disease we refer to as 'pancreas cancer,'" Dr. Hruban told me via email. "Hopkins researchers have a large bank of these rare tumors that allows them to study why some patients have aggressive islet cell tumors while others fare much better." 

My third reason for doing this fund-raiser is that when I was in the hospital six nights recovering from my surgery, I realized how lucky I had been. One of my neighbors down the hall, who was also recovering from pancreatic surgery, was a man in his fifties. Whenever I walked the corridors, he was lapping me. I was so ill I could barely walk, yet every time he passed me, this man told me to keep going. He said that I would be passing him very soon.

I later learned that he had adenocarcinoma of the pancreas, and that his doctors weren’t able to remove all of the cancer. I never learned his name, and I have no idea if he’s even alive today. He was a nice man, incredibly brave, and he really encouraged me, so although I didn’t know him I am inspired to raise money for this cause when I think of him, and when I think of how close I also came to being given a death sentence.

My goal (perhaps overly ambitious) is to raise $12,000 ($200/mile) for Hopkins through donations from you as well as from your friends, family, and colleagues. The entire contribution is tax deductible. I encourage you to donate between $50 and $150, but of course any amount (even $10) will be greatly appreciated, and obviously there’s no ceiling if you wish to donate more.

If you’d like to contribute, please go to Hopkins’s PC research website and click “Donate by Credit Card,” enter my name in the “in honor of” field so we can track how much we raise and donate by credit card. (You can also send a check; the information about how to do so is on the website.  Hopkins also has a breakdown of where your money will go—80% directly to lab research, 20% to infrastructure costs associated with PC research.)

Again, I encourage you to forward this email to anybody who you think might be interested in contributing to this cause. And for those of you reading this who don’t know about my story, briefly put, I was extremely fortunate: I had a pancreatic islet cell tumor—a rare and usually curable form of cancer when caught early—and my tumor was encapsulated. I have a very positive prognosis.

Thank you so much for your support over the past year and for reading this email and considering a contribution. It’s really for an excellent cause, and I hope that you will support it.

Yours,

Matt Dallek