A Salute to Spider

You know Patrick Swayze. You likely know Randy Pausch. You probably have no clue who John Fortney is. However, all three are tied together by a common bond, Sadly, a fatal bond. All three died of  pancreatic cancer.

While diseases like breast cancer are very well known, few people knew what pancreatic cancer was prior to a couple of years ago. Fewer still knew it was a virtual death sentence since it has the lowest survival rate of all the major cancers.

However, in recent years with Randy Pausch of CMU and actor Patrick Swayze being honest and open about their struggles, they have given this condition a face and a sympathetic one at that. John Fortney may not be a Hollywood star or a college professor who’s “Last Lecture” went viral, but he has made a difference in making this disease public and making survival more likely.

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A salute to “Spider”: Everyone dressed in light blue golf shirts in honor of John Fortney ( courtesy: Jeremiah Watson )

I met John during a round of golf a few years ago hosted by a good friend of mine, Bob Duchen. Both belong to the Greensburg Country Club and it was there I learned “Spider” ( as his good friends call hom ) had been battling pancreatic cancer for some time. Diagnosed in 2006, he knew that even with surgery his chances of survival were not good.

Rather than just accept his fate, “Spider” chose to fight the only way he knew how: he formed the John Fortney Charitable Pancreatic Cancer Research Group. His event over three years has raised thousands for the efforts of Dr. A. James Moser at the UPMC Pancreatic Cancer Center. He’s the same physician who treated Dr. Randy Pausch.

“Spider” died in August of 2008. Not long enough to see how his fund-raising efforts have made a difference. Dr. Moser has a patient that has survived two years … and another that has survived ten. The two-year survivor spoke at the major fund-raising event for the research group: a golf tournament at Greensburg Country Club.

This year, thousands were raised and, in tribute to “Spider”, we all wore light blue golf shirts with a spider silhouette on the back. A show of support for a man who believed he could help others even as he was dying.

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