Piper keeps pace with cancer

Walk strong: Neil Piper, right, and his wife, Shari, have hosted an annual walk since 2004 to raise funds for pancreatic cancer research. Neil Piper’s mother, brother, and sister all died from the disease. The Capital District Pancreatic Cancer Research Walk is Sept. 8 at Elm Avenue Town Park in Delmar.

DELMAR — Pancreatic cancer killed most of Neil Piper’s family, but he’s not about to accept that same fate.

A genetic abnormality runs in the Piper family, making him and his relatives more at risk for pancreatic cancer. The disease took Piper’s mother, Resa; sister, Barbara; and brother, Bruce.

Piper has been without a mother since 1981, and an only child for the past 11 years.

“To me, it was murder,” Piper said. “It’s a really sad, unfortunate situation, but I wasn’t going to sit there and wait for it to get me, too. I chose to fight it, and, luckily, I was old enough to realize that some hereditary thing was going on, so I started researching. My nephew did, too.”

The pancreas is a glandular and digestive organ, deep in the body behind the stomach. Piper said that there isn’t much early detection of the cancer, and no official test. Pancreatic cancer treatment is ineffective, and there is no cure. Every year, an estimated 38,460 people die from the disease.

This is why Piper and his wife, Shari, of Delmar, have been raising money for an early detection test, initiating the Capital District Pancreatic Cancer Research Walk. The 10th annual event is a benefit for the Lustgarten Foundation, which has provided more than $67 million in support of pancreatic cancer research.

Piper is a part of a familial study at Johns Hopkins University, and gets tested every three months. He had the tail of his pancreas removed, and, after the surgery, was found to have kidney cancer, so doctors removed half of his kidney in February 2012.

“There are 67 different gene mutations in my family, so we don’t know which one causes the cancer,” said Piper. It’s affected everyone; my niece got her pancreas removed.”

The walk is Sept 8. at the Elm Avenue Town Park in Delmar, beginning at 8:30 a.m. The Pipers raised $100,000 last year.

Typically, pancreatic cancer is found after someone is 40 years of age. Before his mother was diagnosed in 1980, Piper remembers her complexion turning orange, as well as the whites of her eyes. His mother also complained of indigestion for three weeks before the tumor was found.

“She had a blocked bile duct, but no real symptoms,” Piper said.

According to the American Cancer Society, for all phases of pancreatic cancer combined, the one-year relative survival rate is 20 percent, and the five-year rate is 4 percent.

Piper’s sister was diagnosed in November 1991, and died in March of 1992 at 60 years of age; his brother was diagnosed in 2001, dying in August 2002. Both Resa and Bruce Piper were 67 years old when they died.

Neil Piper is 66 years old, and says his “magic age is coming up.” Once his brother got diagnosed, Piper knew something was terribly wrong. “I had to do something,” he said. “We developed a committee, did whatever we could.”

In 2004, the first walk raised $4,000.

Piper’s endoscopic ultrasounds (EUS) cost almost $3,000 per session; most insurance plans do not cover such a procedure. He lives life with an irregular pancreas, and is concerned about the rest of his family.

“We could bury our heads, or do something about it,” Piper said. “If it somehow gets me, I want my children to be safe.”