The Carmel residents lost their father, Robert Bowers Jr., at age 57 to pancreatic cancer in May 2021.
“He had a really short battle with pancreatic cancer,” Baker said. “He was diagnosed and passed away in six weeks’ time, so it was really sudden. We have a family history of pancreatic cancer. Our grandfather (Robert Bowers) died of pancreatic cancer before either of us were born. He and my father were around the same age when each was diagnosed, and both died pretty quickly.”
Baker said after their father died, the sisters were searching for a way to give back and become involved in early detection of pancreatic cancer. It was then they learned about PanCAN, or Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Indianapolis.
Baker, a 2011 Carmel High School graduate, serves as team chair member and is in charge of donors who raise $1,000 or more, which is called the Grand Club. The big fundraiser is the PanCAN PurpleStride Indianapolis walk held annually in April. Katie Bowers, a 2015 CHS graduate, serves as the marketing chair.
November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.
“Pancreatic cancer is often detected very late,” Baker said. “My dad had a heart attack around January 2021 and went to doctors and had every test. He kept saying, ‘I don’t feel right. There’s something wrong.’ He even went to a cancer center. Even in the four weeks he had these done, it went from no cancer to Stage 4.”
Baker said it’s important for the family to be involved in any research.
She said she and her sister are actively participating in the Indiana University pancreatic cancer study at IU Health University Hospital in Indianapolis.
“Pancreatic cancer is one of the least-funded cancers,” Baker said. “For us, the likelihood of someone having pancreatic cancer in our family is very high.”
Thus, it’s essential to recognize the symptoms, even if they are vague.
“It’s important to (ensure) people know the signs and to empower people to advocate for their own bodies,” Katie Bowers said. “Even if doctors don’t think there is a problem, it’s important to be your own advocate and continue until you have the answer or until you feel better.”
Baker said some of the symptoms are abdominal and back pain, weight loss or loss of appetite. She said one fact that stuck with her is pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of just 12 percent.
“It’s the third-highest mortality rate for cancer in the U.S.,” Baker said. “There is no other organization serving families of both survivors and deceased individuals quite as much as PanCAN is. It’s a unique group of people and they are doing a lot of really great research.”
Baker said PanCAN can help with resources for those newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Katie Bowers said many PanCAN members have similar situations.
“Their spouse, father or mother didn’t know they had it and suddenly they passed away,” she said. “It helps to know others that are going through or have been through what you have.”
Baker said she is glad that their mother, Suzanne, has been connected with other individuals from PanCAN who have lost their spouses. Their brother, Robert Bowers III, lives in Carmel with his family and participates in the annual walk.
For more, visit pancan.org.