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GCF launches Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

Gut Cancer Foundation Shines A Light on Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer has one of the lowest survival rates of all major cancers. With symptoms often vague, mild, missed, or ignored, 80 to 95 percent of those diagnosed are in stage 3 or 4, too late for curative surgery. Over 700 New Zealanders are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and more than 600 lose their lives to it each year.  

This November, World Pancreatic Cancer Month, the Gut Cancer Foundation (GCF) is on a mission to educate and raise awareness for early diagnosis, improve support for patients and their whānau, and drive research funding to change outcomes of the disease. GCF is calling on all New Zealanders to participate in a range of initiatives throughout the month.  

The need to come together to improve diagnosis outcomes is growing more urgent as Ministry of Health data shows a 40 percent increase in rates of pancreatic cancer in the two decades to 2017. Currently there is no screening programme for pancreatic cancer, and incidence is higher among men than women in New Zealand. Data published by the Ministry of Health further showed that in 2019, pancreatic cancer rates were 80 percent higher among Māori than non-Māori. So, how can Kiwis help? 

Signing up to the Big Purple Dinner is one way to show support during November. A community fundraising initiative run by GCF, people are encouraged to come together and use their gathering to foster advocacy and raise vital funds for research. Hosts can choose how to set the scene – dress all-purple, cook purple food, have purple table decorations or a purple picnic, or anything else that says ‘purple’. Fundraisers are given support with ideas, recipes, and resources.  

After two years of lockdowns and restrictions causing postponement, the 2022 PanCan Gala – the only gala event in Aotearoa New Zealand dedicated to improving outcomes for Kiwis with pancreatic cancer – is finally set to go ahead. Taking place on Friday 18 November, this formal cocktail-style event, with live music from talented New Zealand musicians Nathan Haines and Phil Madsen, and a spectacular charity auction, is the vision of a dedicated committee of pancreatic cancer advocates. All proceeds from the gala will support GCF’s pancreatic cancer research funding and new resources to support patients and whanau affected by pancreatic cancer. 

Although the gala is an elegant affair hosted in the Auckland War Memorial Museum, the team making up the PanCan Gala committee is even more impressive. Nyree Smith, a driving force on the committee who is spurred on by her own journey with pancreatic cancer, is on a mission to share the message of awareness alongside other advocates and survivors: “Listen to your body. If you have persistent aches and stomach issues, it's vital you get yourself checked. Don’t ignore the signs. That’s one thing I hope others can take away from my journey.”  

Carmen Bailey, another member of the PanCan Gala Committee, lost her mother to the disease in 2019. She, like the rest of the committee and the team at GCF, is fiercely dedicated to improving outcomes of a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. She says, “I remain inspired by the stories of the heroic survivors around me, and the bravery of those who have lost their lives to this disease. The PanCan Gala is a wonderful way to invite people to take part in furthering this incredibly worthy cause, and I’m excited that the event can finally take place this year.”  

The gala has received widespread support including major sponsorship from AIA, Forsyth Barr and SkyCity Entertainment Group.  

Managing Director of Forsyth Barr Neil Paviour-Smith says, “Our support of the PanCan Gala is personal, as it will be for many. We lost our great friend and former chairman Sir Eion Edgar to this brutal disease. Sir Eion left a legacy of generously supporting causes, and our contribution to the gala is made in his memory.” 

AIA New Zealand’s Chief Customer Officer, Angela Busby, says, “ AIA NZ is proud to be supporting the 2022 PanCan Gala event, in support of raising awareness around pancreatic cancer in New Zealand. As New Zealand’s largest life insurer we understand first-hand the consequences misdiagnosis and delayed treatment can have on our customers’ health outcomes, and we support all efforts to educate and improve awareness of this notoriously fast-moving and devastating disease. We wish the PanCan Gala team all the best for a successful event!.” 

Claire Walker, Chief People & Culture Officer of SkyCity Entertainment Group, is also proud to be supporting the gala. “ SkyCity is proud to contribute to this important event which aims to shine a light on pancreatic cancer and celebrate the important work being done to fund research and increase awareness for all those impacted by gut cancers in New Zealand. 

Fundraising continues to play a vital role in bettering outcomes for pancreatic cancer patients. GCF currently has $100,000 committed to two clinical trials (ASCEND and MASTERPLAN) which will give access to new treatment options for 21 New Zealanders with pancreatic cancer. In addition, GCF is holding a funding round in November for a new grant worth $100,000 for research into pancreatic cancer. 

Liam Willis, Executive Officer at GCF, says, “Alarmingly, incidence of pancreatic cancer is on the rise in New Zealand, and survival rates have barely shifted over the last 40 years. The awareness month this November serves as a reminder of the incredible strength of pancreatic cancer survivors and the sadness of those we have lost to the disease. It reinvigorates the need for more widespread education and funding in the minds of New Zealanders. It’s through coming together that we will make change in our communities, this November, next November, and every month in between to improve the dismal statistics and save lives.”  

People can sign up to host their own purple dinner and buy tickets for the PanCan Gala – it all helps GCF combat the rising occurrence and toll of pancreatic cancer.  

New Zealanders should also look out for landmarks lit purple, marking World Pancreatic Cancer Day on 17 November. These serve as a reminder of the cause across the country and encourage important conversations. Last year saw 50 landmarks and buildings take part, and this year new venues including Eden Park and Silo Park in Auckland are on board.