Some of America's most fascinating luminaries succumbed to it – Dizzy Gillespie, the jazz icon; Sally Ride, the first American woman in space; Microsoft creator Steve Jobs; and Memphis' own political celeb, long-time House Speaker Pro-Tempore Lois DeBerry.
But pancreatic cancer – one of the more aggressive forms of cancer – is not the "death sentence" it used to be.
"There was a time when doctors would diagnose the disease and essentially send the patient home to die," said Alan Kosten, founder of the Herb Kosten Pancreatic Cancer Research Foundation, which raises funds to support research at the University of Tennessee Medical Center.
"Our Saturday support group has people who have survived as long as 10 years after being diagnosed. People are fighting back, and they are winning. That is good news worth spreading."
And spreading the news, Kosten is. The 4th Annual Kick It 5K is the group's major annual fundraiser for pancreatic cancer research. This year's event is scheduled for Sunday, March 23rd. More than 1,000 people participated last year.
"I've done some research on the numbers, and more than 30 percent more deaths from pancreatic cancer occur in the African-American community," said Kosten. "I lost my brother, Herb, to the disease about 10 years ago. We can all have a hand in beating this thing."
'Fit Nation' joins the fight
Toye Bogard, creator of Fit Nation, a local community of more than 6,000 local fitness buffs, is joining Kosten's 5K event this year with some of his workout "family."
"Raising money for both research and awareness is critical to fighting cancer on all fronts," said Bogard. "We sponsored our first annual 5K run in September of last year for the American Cancer Society. Both my parents died from cancer, so the cause is very close to my heart. We plan to be there on March 23rd in force."
Bogard started Fit Nation two years ago when he recognized a desire to reach out to African Americans in the Greater Memphis area and promote exercise and healthy living. Groups meet weekly at local community centers and churches for workout sessions. Adults, teenagers, kids and toddlers – everyone comes out "for a little bit of hip-hop and just a little bit of everything."
"Each group has a workout coach, and there are assistants who help each community hold everything together," said Bogard. "We have groups in Whitehaven, Oakhaven, Westwood, Hickory Hill, West Memphis, and Covington. More than 6,000 strong are members of Fit Nation. Each community has its own color-coded T-shirt. Our monthly 'Biggest Loser' type weigh-in is a big pep rally – a family reunion. We are on the road to getting healthy."
Kosten hopes to see more families getting involved with this year's 5K run. Fit Nation's involvement is going to be exciting, he said.
"There is an African-American personal trainer who brings his clients to the 5K run each year to participate as a team," said Kosten. "Having Fit Nation join us this year will be great. The more people who get involved, the greater the level of awareness, and wider participation will bring in the much needed funding for research."
Jeffrey Goldberg, editor of Memphis Magazine and the Memphis Flyer, is this year's 5k chairman.
(For more information on Fit Nation, or to join the fitness movement, go to: www.wearefitnation.com.)