Passionate Fenton District Schools, Andrew G. Schmidt Teacher Spearheads Annual Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Campaign
Posted: Wednesday, November 18, 2015 9:44 am
Vera Hogan Staff Reporter
[Repost, 11.23.2015, by the DeSean Jackson Foundation.]
Fenton — Students, staff and teachers throughout the Fenton school district donned the color purple on Nov. 12 during the third annual “Purple Out” for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness.
The campaign started the first year (2012) at Fenton Andrew G. Schmidt (AGS), said Jill Smigielski, a special education teacher and 20-year veteran at Fenton Area Public Schools (FAPS).
Last year, Fenton High School joined in;
and, this year, the Purple Out campaign for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness is district-wide (6 schools).
“One night, in October of 2013, I was so frustrated because everyone knows what pink means in October,” Jill Smigielski said. “But I felt like no one knew or recognized any of the other colors and it just so happened that November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness month.”
Smigielski’s father lost his battle with pancreatic cancer on Oct. 28, 2009 at the age of 67, in December of 2008, he had some back pains that he thought were a pulled muscle from shoveling snow, according to Smigielski. “As time went by, it got worse and he finally went to see his doctor,” she said. “While there, he passed a kidney stone. They thought that was his problem but ordered a CT scan to be safe. It was there the doctors saw the mass on his pancreas. He had a biopsy done and it was in March of 2009 that he was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer.
“My dad’s symptom was only back pain,” Smigielski added. “After diagnosis, my dad did turn jaundice, which can be another symptom, and started losing weight. “My family was fortunate that he lived seven months after diagnosis,” she said. “Many of those afflicted with Pancreatic Cancer only live two weeks, sometimes two months. The lucky ones may live a year after the initial diagnosis; and there is no cure year.
“My dad was just such a great guy,” added Smigielski. “He loved his family. He was married to my mom for 43 years before he died, raised three daughters and had two grandchildren. “While pancreatic cancer did not define my dad, it took him from my family way too early,” she said. “I watched my dad go from a healthy 175-pound man to maybe 100 pounds when he died.” Smigielski said she knows all families struggle when they lose a loved one to any type of illness. “However, I’m not very good at sitting and doing nothing. I am a take action, try to make a change sort of person,” she said. “My personal obsession has been to make Purple in November mean the same as pink in October.
“Every single person in our country knows what pink means when they see it everywhere in October,” Smigielski said. “I want that for November. I want to go grocery shopping and get purple bags. I want purple pizza boxes when I order pizza. I want the awareness spread and money raised so the researchers can make advancements and hopefully other families can have a better outcome if God forbid they have a diagnosis of this cancer.”
Following her father’s death, Smigielski said she did some research on pancreatic cancer and was overwhelmed to learn that one group — the NFL — had many connections to pancreatic cancer. “Several former players, the Detroit Lions head of security, some of the players’ agents and others had all died from pancreatic cancer,” she said. “While I did that research, DeSean Jackson’s name came up as his dad died from Pancreatic Cancer in May of 2009. I knew that DeSean Jackson was a popular player and I found his foundation, the DeSean Jackson Foundation, and an email.”
Smigielski didn’t know it, but the email went to Jackson’s mom, Gayle Jackson. Smigielski admits “spewing some ugliness” to Mrs. Jackson about the lack of effort on the part of the NFL to recognize pancreatic cancer, while at the same time doing so much for breast cancer in October. “I mean, after all, there are football games every Thursday, Sunday and Monday in November so why can’t the players wear purple wristbands, socks, etc. in November for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness,” Smigielski said. [Smigielski was adamant that DeSean should be defiant and violate NFL dress code by wearing purple socks in November in memory of his father and to raise Pancreatic Cancer Awareness. DeSean declined because a negative connotation of being “defiant” would not associated with his love for his father; and, his father’s love for his son and football. “My Pops dedicated his life to getting me into the NFL; and, spent his last days charting my course of success and sustainability in the league. Jackson, however, agreed to give Smigielski a national platform through his elite status in the NFL; and, his mother, Gayle Jackson and her team to teach Smigielski and her students how to advocate and be ‘change agents’.] Mrs. Jackson and I ended up emailing back and forth; and, we decided that the Purple Out at AGS Middle School would be a good start,” Smigielski added. The “Purple Out” model is presently being replicated in schools throughout the nation in partnership with the DeSean Jackson Foundation.
“When I started thinking about doing something for pancreatic cancer awareness, I knew that middle school students needed something they could connect to,” said Smigielski. A wide receiver for the Washingston Redskins, DeSean Jackson is a very popular football player in the NFL.
At AGS, staff pay $5 each to wear jeans this week and we have several DeSean Jackson items that students are buying raffle tickets to win. Those items include a plaque, an autographed poster and two autographed 8 by 10 pictures. “We also have DeSean Jackson Foundation purple wrist bands; and, some other fun bracelets for sale,” said Smigielski. At Fenton High school, the student council sold ribbons to students and those were put on the wall to spell out “HOPE” in purple.
At State Road Elementary School, Principal Barry Tiemann is participating in “No Shave November” and; State Road students brought in loose change to donate.
“My connection with Gayle Jackson; and, our joint passion for raising Pancreatic Cancer awareness is what started our Purple Out,” Smigielski said. “It makes sense to raise the money for the DeSean Jackson Foundation as well.”
Pancreatic Cancer facts:
• Pancreatic cancer is detected the majority of the time when the patient is already stage IV and start to have symptoms.
• There is no early detection test for pancreatic cancer. As far as funding for research, it has been the least funded cancer out there and is very resistant to treatment.
• Pancreatic cancer is currently the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States, and is anticipated to become the second by 2020.
• Pancreatic cancer is one of the nation’s deadliest cancers with a five-year relative survival rate of just 6 percent. An estimated 72 percent of patients will die in the first year of diagnosis.
• It is estimated that in 2015, 48,960 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and 40,560 will die from the disease. Seventy-two percent of patients will die within the first year of diagnosis.
• Pancreatic cancer is the only major cancer with a 5-year relative survival rate in the single digits, at just 7 percent.
• While surgery offers the best chance for survival, fewer than 20 percent of pancreatic cancer cases are diagnosed early enough for surgical intervention. Even with surgery, the disease recurs in approximately 80 percent of these patients, who die within 5 years of recurrence.
Source: Pancreatic Cancer Action Network