It didn't seem possible when my aunt Ruth Ann Patterson told us that she only had a few months to live - at best.
She had always been healthy. She ate healthy food, stayed active, never smoked and I never saw her drink any alcohol.
She didn't even look sick when she went to the doctor because she wasn't feeling herself. She was only 50 years old, and she looked younger.
That changed very quickly.
Aunt Ruthie didn't last as long as the doctors thought she might. Pancreatic cancer moves incredibly fast.
Our family has more than its share of the sorrow of losing loved ones to cancer. We've seen good people suffer more than death row inmates should ever experience.
Bad guys with guns or terrorists aren't what scares me. I know what real horror looks like because I've seen it happen to some of the people I love the most.
I was reminded of my aunt's struggle with pancreatic cancer last week when I heard the news that Alex Trebek, who has hosted the popular TV game show "Jeopardy" for 35 years, has been diagnosed with the deadly disease. I feel like I know Mr. Trebek as I've watched his show for years.
Like my aunt, he's keeping a positive spirit even though it doesn't look good for him.
When something like this happens to someone it's difficult for me to understand why. But one good thing that could come from Mr. Trebek's unfortunate diagnosis is that he could bring more awareness to a form of cancer that has the highest mortality rate of all cancers.
According to the National Cancer Institute, only nine percent of pancreatic cancer patients are still living five years after they are diagnosed. In other words, 91 percent of them die within five years. Another study reports as many as 50 percent die within a year of being diagnosed.
What's most troubling is that pancreatic cancer is one of the few forms of cancer where the survival rate has not improved noticeably in recent years. The overall cancer mortality rate has fallen by over 20 percent in the last two decades, but there's been little difference in the survival rate for pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is now the third-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. It overtook breast cancer in 2016, and some medical professionals expect it to overtake colon cancer for second place by 2020. (Lung cancer is the undisputed champion of cancer deaths, in case you're wondering).
The Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Research predicts that 56,770 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year alone, and nearly 46,000 will die.
There are two main reasons why so many people are still dying from this deadly disease.
1. There is no simple detection test.
2. In almost every case, by the time it's discovered it has reached the most serious stages. At this point the only treatments available or chemotherapy or radiation. Earlier detection might allow for removing a tumor, which would obviously increase survival rates.
If you are interested in learning more, check out the website pancreatic.org. It describes symptoms that can be an early signal of the disease as abdominal pain, weight loss and jaundice.
There's not a lot of good news to be found when it comes to pancreatic cancer, and Mr. Trebek's diagnosis is no exception. But maybe those who are suffering from this deadly disease will find a great advocate in Alex Trebek. If he can raise awareness about this terrible disease and encourage research that develops testing designed to catch it before it's too late, he may be remembered for that even more than his legendary television career.