Eastern Carolina woman spreads awareness of pancreatic cancer following the loss of her dad

Eastern Carolina women makes it her mission to tell her dads battle with cancer
Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 7:03 PM EST
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - November 16th is World Pancreatic Cancer Day, and a woman here in the East is sharing her dad’s battle with the disease with the hopes of educating the public.

Maria Cullipher has now made it her mission to spread awareness about pancreatic cancer and tell her dad’s story, who passed away when she was only 24.

“A lot of people that spread awareness for cancer are survivors; well, that’s something pancreatic cancer doesn’t have,” said Cullipher.

Maria Cullipher lost her dad to pancreatic cancer in 2015 after he battled the disease for nearly a year. She said her dad, Don Anderson, was only 54.

“He was a college football player, great shape, super healthy, and just seen it firsthand where he withered away to nothing. You couldn’t even recognize him,” said Cullipher.

Now, she wants to raise awareness and educate the public instead of putting the experience behind her.

“The whole thing is so quick I think people kind of forget about it. Most people don’t have a 5-7-year battle with it, ya know, it’s a couple of months,” said Cullipher.

It’s even more important now, as Dr. Emmanuel Zervos, an ECU Health Surgical Oncology Professor, says case numbers are rising.

“When I started working with his cancer about 20 years ago, there was about 30,000 new cases a year, and that number has bumped up to about 50,000 new cases a year,” said Dr. Zervos.

Dr. Zervos says only a small amount of pancreatic cancer patients are able to have surgery to get the cancer removed, and patients traditionally have been resistant to chemotherapy.

Cullipher says her biggest advice to those who have a loved one with cancer is to, “Just always advocate for your loved one and know the symptoms because you never know when it can hit your family.”

The most common symptoms are weight loss, loss of appetite, and the development of jaundice.

Cullipher also has seven proclamations from cities across the East declaring today World Pancreatic Cancer Day, along with raising awareness on her social media with the help of her daughters. She also tries to wear purple, the color of pancreatic cancer awareness, every chance she can.

The oncology professor said those who have a parent or sibling with pancreatic cancer are at a higher risk, and he recommends talking to your doctor to see if you should get tested for it.