Just 90 days after Richard Orr’s diagnosis, this once-healthy 58-year-old ex-cop who played 18 holes of golf twice a week became a tired man who could barely walk 50 feet and was fighting for his life. He has pancreatic cancer.
On Saturday Mr. Orr appeared confident and strong as he spoke to a crowd of thousands who gathered for PurpleStride Washington, D.C., a 5K walk/run sponsored by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
“The best medicine for me is talking with survivors,” he said, remembering his first PurpleStride in 2010. “I will never forget walking up to the registration tent… and seeing the “Survivor’s Tent” nearby. That was the first time I had ever seen, much less talked, to another survivor. There before me were 18 people who knew exactly what I was going through, who could really give me a renewed hope for the battle that lay ahead.”
On this sunny morning in June, Mr. Orr walked down Pennsylvania Avenue with other pancreatic cancer survivors. He was surrounded by hundreds of small groups and families, who marched in purple tee-shirts with badges and placards that honored those who had not survived the disease.
I am walking in memory of my wife Kate.
I am walking in memory of Papa.
I am walking in memory of Mom.
My own purpose this morning was to honor Janice, my cousin Mike’s wife. Her journey with pancreatic cancer was marked by triumphs and setbacks, good humor and stoic endurance. “This week was a little difficult for me,” she wrote in a 2011 email. “I never thought I was vain, but maybe all this talk about how good I look went to my head/hair. In any event, I couldn’t take the clumps coming out in the shower or just combing it or just sitting there, so I buzzed it all off yesterday. I haven’t looked at myself yet. Mike said it doesn’t matter what I look like on the outside, its what’s inside that counts, and he loved me either way.”
Janice died almost exactly six months after her diagnosis.
A quarter of the way through Saturday’s walk within a majestic sea of purple that filled Pennsylvania Avenue, I watched Mr. Orr stand with his friends and family in front of the Capitol. He smiled for the camera. This week he and other volunteers will continue their walk, this time through the halls of Congress to urge passage of S. 362 and H.R. 733, the “Pancreatic Cancer Research & Education Act.” The bill has four components: 1) developing a strategic plan for pancreatic cancer research; 2) establishing a cancer research incubator pilot project for the deadliest cancers (defined as those with five-year survival rates below 50 percent; 3) strengthening and expanding centers for excellence in pancreatic cancer; 4) and promoting physician and public awareness.
“We have an obligation to those who have died from the disease,” he told the crowd and urged everyone to call and email Congress to urge passage of the bill.
Since Mr. Orr’s initial diagnosis and surgery, he has had a liver embolization, resection surgery, and multiple rounds of chemotherapy.
“But I am still here,” he said. “I continue to live an active lifestyle…speaking for those who have lost their battle.”
Just 6 percent of pancreatic cancer patients will survive more than five years. Seventy-four percent will die within the first year of diagnosis. Mr. Orr and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network call on the 112th Congress to help improve the odds and give current and future patients with pancreatic cancer a fighting chance.
Hear Richard Orr talk about his survivorship.