I didn't know Courtney Erickson that well. He was an intern in the Old Dominion sports information department during the glory years -- 1996-97. I covered the Lady Monarchs, who came a victory shy of winning the national title. I remember chuckling at Courtney's diligence -- his abundant enthusiasm that would often have him deliver first-half women's' basketball updates to media sitting court side ("it's 7-4 JMU. It's early. ...") He was funny. He loved what he was doing, and like so many in sports info, took the long hours in stride.
Courtney died on July 5. He was 44. He had pancreatic cancer.
I despise those two words together: pancreatic cancer. My father died of it July 3, 1997. My father had surgery or near surgery, two months before his death. They saw the tumor when they opened him up. It was cemented to a vital organ. They sewed him up, tumor intact.
Sixteen years later, a man much younger dies and the statistics are so grim, it's hard to believe they're credible. That would be a five-year survival rate of 6 percent. Pancreatic cancer has no warning signs for early detection. Chemo does little. Most patients die within the first year.
I am angry at pancreatic cancer. Angry at it for robbing my dad of seeing his grandchildren. Angry at it for taking the lives of my friend Ellen's mother and my friend Jenna's mom just last week. Angry at it for taking Courtney. He was a young man.
This is a horrible, horrible disease.
Shortly after losing my father, I talked with former Virginia coach Debbie Ryan, who overcame pancreatic cancer. I told her of a card written to my dad that told him to "Please hang on. Think of your coming grandchild." Her reaction was the same as mine. He couldn't hang on. If you have this disease, you can't hang on, you can't fight to beat it most of the time. She told me she knew how incredibly lucky she was. Luck, it seems, is the best hope for pancreatic cancer patients given the unfavorable odds.
Every time I read of another pancreatic cancer death, I take it personally. I want something to be done. I want progress. I want research for early detection, research for a cure. I have so much faith reading about the test the teen developed that seems like a plausible way to detect pancreatic cancer.
Can we do something? Anything? Today? It's not going away if we don't. By 2020, pancreatic cancer is predicted to move from the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths to the second leading cause of cancer deaths.
I volunteer with the Tidewater Affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. We will have what we call a PurpleStride, a walk on behalf of pancreatic cancer, on April 5 in Virginia Beach. It will be a morning to walk for my dad, for Ellen's mom, for Jenna's mom, for Courtney, for anyone who has ever lost someone to pancreatic cancer, for anyone who has survived a disease so lethal that it kills 40,000 per year.
Pancreatic cancer. Know it. Fight it. End it. I hope. I hope. I hope. And my thoughts and prayers go to the family of Courtney Erickson.