“Seeing her suffer for 11 months was a difficult thing to do, and there was nothing we could do about it,” Josh Rogers says about witnessing his mother’s battle against pancreatic cancer. The diagnosis in July 2008, had taken their family by surprise. Polly Rogers was a healthy non-smoking wife and mother of three boys who taught elementary school and coached track and field.
When Polly passed away in June 2009, Rogers and his two brothers held the first-ever Polly’s Run to honor her memory. “At the end of the day we had almost $1,000 in cash and in-kind donations,” he recalls. “We had the opportunity to make a difference so individuals and families in the future wouldn’t have to experience what we went through.”
Rogers ran with the idea.
The annual event has grown to include more than 600 runners and walkers. It raised more than $37,000 this past June, bringing the Polly Rogers Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund at The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center to more than $100,000.
Polly’s Run is now the largest fundraising event for pancreatic cancer in New Mexico. While few pancreatic cancer survivors take part in the event — because so few survive — many families passionately support it.
“We’ve been blessed with a loyal following of people who do it every year,” says Rogers. “[They] understand that it is absolutely critical for the families that are left after their loved one passes away to carry on this message.”
The National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program estimates that 55,440 Americans will receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, and 44,330 will lose their lives to the disease in 2018. Fewer than 9 percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survive for five years or more, but that rate is even worse for those whose cancer has spread beyond the pancreas. And with no screening test, more than half of patients are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer after it has already spread.
The overall five-year relative survival rate has increased since the early 2000s, thanks to drug and treatment options that have become available since Polly Rogers passed away. And new possibilities for treatments are being studied.
The research gives hope to Rogers and to Polly’s Run participants. “The group that we’ve created is very passionate about the cause and finding a cure,” says Rogers. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Organizers are planning the 10th annual Polly’s Run for June 2, 2019. Visit Polly’s Run to watch for details.