Pancreatic Cancer is one of the deadliest of the major cancers with a 5-year survival rate of less than 12%. To fight against these dire statistics, the Gut Cancer Foundation of New Zealand is a part of the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition, which brings together 99 organisations from over 40 countries who are determined to improve outcomes for patients and whānau.
The World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition has just closed its annual summit – United for Change, which was held virtually across three weeks. Members heard from the medical fraternity, patient support services, survivors and those who have lost loved ones to this disease. It also launched the campaign for World Pancreatic Cancer Day which is held globally on 17 November.
For the first time this year, the coalition opened nominations for the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition Outstanding Volunteer of the Year Award. There were five nominees from across the globe, all tireless advocates for changing outcomes for pancreatic cancer. New Zealander Nyree Smith took out the award.
“My mission, since being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 5 years ago, has been to raise awareness and support research into this often-forgotten cancer. I feel really lucky to be here, 5 years after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and still alive and kicking, that gives me purpose and drive” says Nyree. “I was so touched to be nominated for this award by the Gut Cancer Foundation, I know there are so many people across the world volunteering their time in one way or another to fight this cancer so I was overwhelmed to hear my name called out”.
Liam Willis, Executive Officer of the Gut Cancer Foundation says “I knew immediately, when I saw the WPCC call for nominations that I was going to nominate Nyree. Her dedication to change outcomes for others through fundraising, awareness and support is incredible, especially considering she is still going through her own journey. The foundation is so appreciative of her dedication. For her to win this award is one small way we can give her the recognition she deserves”.
Nyree was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in September 2017. Despite having no symptoms, a full physical assessment showed her liver function was not 100%, and an MRI confirmed she had pancreatic cancer.
Three months of chemotherapy helped shrink the tumour enough to have surgery and after another three months of chemotherapy, Nyree was told she was cancer-free in 2018. Then in late 2019, the cancer came back. Nyree now undergoes maintenance chemo to keep the cancer at bay for as long as possible.
In the face of her diagnosis, Nyree started a blog and website to help support others going through pancreatic cancer and her monthly coffee mornings are a source of vital support for ‘the forgotten’ pancreatic cancer community. On top of that, she has created New Zealand's first fundraising event dedicated to improving outcomes for pancreatic cancer patients – the PanCan Gala. Nyree set about forming a committee of dedicated volunteers to create and run this gala event, with all proceeds supporting the Gut Cancer's Foundation’s work in pancreatic cancer research and awareness. Despite COVID setbacks and twice postponing the event, Nyrees's drive, determination and passion will see the gala come to fruition on 18 November during the Worldwide Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.
“This event will be a massive part of the Gut Cancer Foundation's fundraising income which would not have happened without Nyree, her passion and skill. Nyree's impact as a volunteer is immeasurable and her support of the Foundation, even prior to the creation of the PanCan Gala, has been utterly invaluable. To achieve all this whilst undergoing prolonged, and exhausting treatment for stage 4 pancreatic cancer is mind-blowing.” says Liam.
Find out more about the PanCan Gala and buy tickets here.