BRANTFORD, Ont. — Before the world became okay with using the word “cancer,” the disease was often known as The Big C. Even though almost everyone knows someone who has been affected by the disease, no one wanted to talk about their diagnosis, the harsh reality of chemotherapy, or other forms of treatment.
That is until the birth of a Pink Ribbon in the early 90s liberated women with breast cancer and made it okay to proclaim that they were going to beat the disease and raise money for a cure. Since the Pink Ribbon campaign came to be, money going toward breast cancer research has skyrocketed.
But what about people who have another type of cancer? Where is their support?
When she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 57, Kathy Butterwick of Brantford, Ont., went in search of her own ribbon. Her diagnosis came in the summer of 2012, after being jaundice one night. She had no other warning signs.
She discovered the colour for pancreatic cancer was purple and wanted her own purple ribbon to raise awareness for the disease she had. She tried several outlets but all they offered her were pink ribbons.
After Butterwick’s frustration grew, her husband Terry Loree, a retired truck driver, decided to take matters into his own hands and found the official Pancreatic Cancer Canada Web site.
“I saw that they gave out purple ribbons and purple T-shirts and hats and so we got Kathy the full regalia,” he said.
Unfortunately after fighting for more than two years, Kathy lost the battle to pancreatic cancer on Dec. 2, 2014. But her memory will live on Canadian highways thanks to one special purple truck – the first and only Pancreatic Cancer Tribute Truck – driven by owner/operator and friend of Loree, Rick Lane.
Loree said this act of kindness and willingness of Lane to volunteer to be a sort of rolling billboard or spokesperson for pancreatic cancer is something he is forever grateful for.
Lane and Loree met back when they both worked for Ryder Logistics.
“He was a truck driver too and then he became a dispatcher, so he was my dispatcher for awhile,” said Loree. “I hadn’t seen Rick in almost a decade…but we always e-mailed. And through Kathy’s journey for conveniences’ sake, I would send e-mails to friends and family, keeping them up to date on her progress, and Rick was in on those e-mails.”
Loree said because Butterwick refused to have a funeral when she passed, he decided to host a small memorial gathering at a local restaurant in late February to honour her memory with a few friends and family.
“I sent out a reminder e-mail and Rick sent back an e-mail saying that he and his family would be coming back from Costa Rica at 8 a.m. that morning, but he’d be there. And he showed up,” said Loree. “And it was just like old times when he got there. We were just catching up and Rick says, ‘What do you think, are there too many pink tribute trucks out there?’ And I said, ‘In my opinion, yeah.’ And he said, ‘Well, I’ve got a purple dump truck…’ And at that point, I fell apart. Because, while we were friends, we weren’t best buddies or anything.”
On Apr. 18, 2015, Lane officially unveiled his purple tribute truck complete with decals honouring Butterwick and showcasing facts about pancreatic cancer.
“I was just lucky I happened to have a purple truck,” said Lane. “ I had seen a lot of the pink cancer tribute trucks out there and I hadn’t seen a purple one, so I volunteered to use my truck to spread awareness.
“Terry is a good friend of mine and he’s been through a lot of tough times and he was really excited when I volunteered to do this.”
So far, Lane said the truck has received a lot of positive attention on the road, and he hopes he can spread a lot of awareness for pancreatic cancer.
“I’ve received a lot of compliments and thumbs up and honks so far. People have even started cutting me off because they are reading the decal on the side of the truck, but I’ll get used to that,” he said with a laugh.
Loree believes that pancreatic cancer took a back seat because of the nature of the disease. He explained how hard pancreatic cancer is to detect because of the minimal warning signs it shows.
“The problem is the pancreas has no nerve endings, so there’s no discomfort,” said Loree. “There could be a little back discomfort, or stomach discomfort, but how can anyone tell the difference? The symptoms are extremely vague and by the time doctors find it, it’s so usually so far advanced, there’s nothing that can do about it.”
According to Pancreatic Cancer Canada, 4,700 Canadians are diagnosed with the disease every year. Of all the major cancers, pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate; 75% of patients will die within the first year of diagnosis and 92% will die within five years. The best way to treat pancreatic cancer is through surgery – even though only 15% of patients are eligible for the procedure (Butterwick was fortunate to be one of them) – called a whipple. Often those who are diagnosed and have the surgery are already in the last stage of cancer progression.
“It doesn’t affect a huge number of people, but to the people it does kill, it’s horrendous,” added Loree. “It’s not something I wish on my worst enemy. This is something that needs more attention. We need to spread more awareness and more people need to know about it. It’s a nasty killer.”
He added that even though Butterwick suffered through her disease, “We made the best of it. And we filled the good days with whatever she wanted to do that day. The bad days we spent curled up on the couch.”
Loree said that he misses his wife dearly, and hopes the truck can bring more attention to the disease that took her away too suddenly.
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