Why We Need to Stand Up Together if We Want to Beat Cancer

Every day, 1,600 people die of cancer, a startling fact. Yet, we've never been closer to achieving lasting cancer remissions so all cancer patients can become cancer survivors. Through our involvement with Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), I've learned so much about the innovative research that is being conducted to help end cancer and have heard many inspirational stories of survivorship, which shows the impact that cutting-edge and collaborative research can have on saving patients' lives.

One of those lives is Elizabeth O'Connor's.

Elizabeth was diagnosed with Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer at the age of 31, two weeks after giving birth to her second child. The groundbreaking research conducted by the scientists and researchers on SU2C's Pancreatic Dream Team helped to save her life.

In March 2010, Elizabeth was 20 weeks pregnant and feeling pretty sick, nothing like she had experienced when pregnant with her daughter. Understandably, she became anxious about her health, but nothing concerning had shown up on previous ultrasounds and she was always told that she was on track for a healthy pregnancy. Her family and friends also reminded her that no two pregnancies are the same so she put her concerns on the back burner. Seven weeks later, Elizabeth could no longer ignore how she was feeling. After discussing it with her doctor, he suggested another ultrasound. This time her doctor found cysts on her ovaries. They weren't overly concerned but due to their size, he urged her to see a specialist. At this point, she was concerned and asking herself - what could be wrong? After seeing the specialist, Elizabeth was diagnosed with Luteoma, a rare tumor-like mass on the ovary that happens during pregnancy but regresses after delivery. Even though she was being treated, as the weeks progressed and as her due date came closer, her health continued to decline. She felt and looked extremely sick. This was not the pregnancy she was expecting.

On October 20th Elizabeth gave birth to her beautiful baby boy, Andrew, but was back in the hospital with a blood clot in her left arm a few days later. After days of tests to uncover what could be wrong, Elizabeth was diagnosed with Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer.

The young mother's whole world changed in that moment and fighting for her life became part of her everyday routine. Since November 2010, Elizabeth has undergone multiple rounds of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. She's experienced reoccurrences in her brain and lung.

She's immensely thankful to her doctor, Dr. Daniel D. Von Hoff, co-leader of the original SU2C Pancreatic Dream Team, who never stopped fighting for her. When she learned that everyone on the SU2C Pancreatic Dream Team had lost someone to pancreatic cancer, she knew that she was in the right hands and that they would do everything they could do to help her win her fight ‒ because they knew so many others who didn't. It was personal for them, too, and Elizabeth knew they were the best people to have in her corner.

Initially, Elizabeth's cancer had progressed to a point where potentially curative surgery was not an option. But Dr. Von Hoff didn't allow Elizabeth to simply accept a dire prognosis and strongly believed that through his collaborative network of doctors and researchers, he could ensure that she would she live to see her children grow up. Dr. Von Hoff's targeted chemotherapy treatments, which work to "starve" cancer cells to death by depriving them of a specific nutrient that they require for survival, helped shrink Elizabeth's tumor enough that she was able to undergo a surgical procedure in 2012.

And Dr. Von Hoff is not stopping in his quest to overcome pancreatic cancer. Just this month, Dr. Von Hoff was announced as the leader of the new SU2C ‒ Cancer Research UK - Lustgarten Foundation Pancreatic Dream Team as he hopes to double patient survival from pancreatic cancer and to enable durable remissions.

While Elizabeth still continues to fight every single day, she's a stronger person because of it. When she looks at her family - her two wonderful children and her husband - she knows they are her inspiration and the reason why she will never give up. The O'Connor family and Elizabeth's extended support system are what have helped her through this trying journey.

Anyone who is fighting cancer can't stand up to it alone. Cancer survivors and fighters like Elizabeth count on life-saving therapies like these and the incredible work being done by the Dream Teams. This is why we believe collaborating with SU2C is so important. The millions of dollars we raise during our in-store campaign across our 7,900 CVS/pharmacy locations will support the work of 18 Dream Teams that bring together scientists from different institutions and across multiple disciplines to transform new research being conducted in the laboratory into positive patient outcomes.

I stand up for everyone who has been impacted by cancer; and so does CVS Health, our more than 200,000 colleagues and our generous customers. Join us in our fight because no one can beat cancer alone. We all can help by standing together. Who do you stand up for?