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Nearly $3M raised for Sydney local battling terminal cancer

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Leanne Duggan, a courageous Sydney resident who has been blind since birth, will be joined by hundreds from the local community for the 2024 Put Your Foot Down Sydney Walk. Despite facing terminal pancreatic cancer, Leanne has bravely shared her story to inspire hope and push for better outcomes for future patients. 

In May 2023, Leanne, otherwise fit and healthy, visited her doctor due to abdominal discomfort. An ultrasound revealed a shadow on her pancreas, followed by a CT scan that confirmed further concerns. She was then referred for an endoscopic ultrasound, which allowed for a direct biopsy of the pancreas. The diagnosis was a pancreatic tumour the size of an orange. 

“I was shocked and in disbelief, thinking all I had was a stomach ulcer,” said Leanne. 

“Ironically, a standard endoscopy cannot see through to the pancreas nor guide biopsies of a mass—only an endoscopic ultrasound can do this.” 

“Without my GP’s intervention, my pancreatic cancer would have gone undetected and untreated, possibly costing my life,” added Leanne. 

With a lifetime of navigating the medical system due to her blindness, Leanne knew the importance of exploring all treatment options and seeking second opinions.  

She consulted two top upper GI surgeons in Sydney who both recommended starting with three months of chemotherapy to shrink the tumour before considering surgery.  

The chemotherapy was effective, reducing the tumour size and making surgery an option—a milestone achieved by less than 20% of those with stage 3 pancreatic cancer. 

In September 2023, Leanne underwent major surgery to remove half of her pancreas, her spleen, one adrenal gland, and 36 lymph nodes. Although recovery was lengthy and challenging, the surgery initially offered hope.  

Unfortunately, her cancer has since returned and is now terminal, with a prognosis of one to two years. Leanne is back on chemotherapy to manage her symptoms and maintain quality of life for as long as possible. 

“I wonder if earlier maintenance chemo could have kept my cancer at stage 3 and prevented its spread,” Leanne reflected.  

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“Now, at stage 4, there’s no turning back. Trials and treatments may extend my life, but they won’t save it.” 

Throughout her journey, Leanne’s Guide Dog, Ester, has been a source of unconditional love and support.  

“Ester is incredibly in tune with me and knows that I’m not well. She’s my rock, providing joy, comfort and enabling me to remain independent.” 

Leanne emphasised the importance of her support network and stated that she’s extremely lucky to have a strong network of friends supporting Ester and her.  

“We couldn’t have gotten through the last 12 months without them, and I know I’ll need them more than ever in the coming months.” 

PanKind, The Australian Pancreatic Cancer Foundation, organises the Put Your Foot Down walks across Australia to unite the pancreatic cancer community and advocate for better treatments. 

This nationwide event has raised nearly $3 million, with participants dressing in their best purple outfits to walk in solidarity with pancreatic cancer patients and to honour those lost to the disease. 

Pancreatic cancer has a devastatingly low five-year survival rate of only 12.5%, which drops to 6% in rural and regional areas.  

Over 4,000 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year, with 80% dying within 12 months, making it one of the deadliest cancers. 

“Pancreatic cancer survival rates remain unacceptably low,” said PanKind CEO Michelle Stewart.  

“It’s a devastating disease often caught too late for effective treatment. Awareness and funding for research are crucial for improving survival rates.” 

Dr Amber Johns, PanKind’s Head of Programs, added that there have been no major improvements in outcomes over the last 20 years.  

“Research is key to improving outcomes for those affected by pancreatic cancer.” 

“Recent initiatives using genomic information show promise in matching patients with targeted therapies,” added Dr Johns. 

The Put Your Foot Down Sydney Walk, a 4.5km family and dog-friendly event, will be held at Metcalfe Park, Pyrmont, Sydney, marking the 15th anniversary of the walk. For more details, visit Put Your Foot Down Sydney Walk. 

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Menchie Khairuddin is a writer Deputy Content Manager at Akolade and content producer for Third Sector News. She is passionate about social affairs specifically in mixed, multicultural heritage and not-for-profit organisations.

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