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Frank Gray

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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Traci Yingling is fighting pancreatic cancer. She is planning a candlelight vigil in her yard today.

Pancreatic cancer gets activist

It’s been about four months now since Traci Yingling was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and though she said it took about a week to deal with the news, she has since tried to make the best of it.

She started having chemo parties with her friends, inviting a bunch to get together and gobble down ice cream, Italian ice, frozen yogurt or snacks the night before she would begin various rounds of chemo or radiation therapy.

It helps, she says. She’s a nurse. She knows that pancreatic cancer isn’t good. She’s cared for people who have had the disease, and she’s seen people survive and recover.

Above all, Yingling knows what attitude can do. It can help pull you through almost anything. So, relying on her faith, her family, her friends, and finding a role model in a local doctor who licked the disease and has survived for 15 years, Yingling talks a little about exactly how the disease will be treated and how she will recover.

One thing she noticed, though, is that nobody talks about pancreatic cancer.

There’s breast cancer month and pro football players wear pink socks and shoes. People talk about colon cancer and prostate cancer. In the summertime, people talk about skin cancer.

But if she mentions to someone that she has pancreatic cancer, they say little.

Why can’t pancreatic cancer share some attention with other cancers, she asks?

It is, after all, the deadliest form of abdominal cancer, Yingling points out. It’s the fourth most deadly cancer there is. But there have been a lot of developments in recent years, and chemo and radiation therapy has improved by leaps and bounds, she says.

Suddenly, those chemo parties started having an additional purpose, getting people, at least people Yingling knows, to talk about the disease, or at least listen.

Then, this month, Yingling came across a little factoid she didn’t know. Her disease, like other cancers, has its own month, too. November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, and to give the country a little advance notice, people will be holding candlelight vigils around the country today. There’s one scheduled in Indianapolis.

But there wasn’t one in Fort Wayne, so Yingling decided to hold one of her own. She’d just do it in her backyard. Invite a few friends over, light a few candles at 7:30, have some snacks, chitchat for a while.

It was intended to be small, Yingling said, but then some friends said they’d gotten some items for a raffle. The money they raised could go to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Then some more friends scrounged up footballs and basketballs signed by pro teams, and they decided there had to be an auction.

“I never intended for anyone to have to spend any money,” Yingling says.

But that’s changed. Now it appears more than 100 people will show up at her home today, and her mother is fretting about where they will park.

People can park in the street, her friends said.

Or maybe the neighbors can attend and let the visitors park in their driveways.

The event can’t drag on too long, though.

Yingling has to get to bed and be up in time to make it to the hospital by 7:30 Monday for more radiation therapy.

The address, by the way – well, you’ll have to ask one of Yingling’s friends.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.