Pancreatic cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S., killing more people than breast cancer each year.

Pancreatic cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S., killing more people than breast cancer each year.

By 2020, pancreatic cancer is predicted to eclipse colorectal cancer as the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the country.

And, for Debi Stevens, her daughters and grandchildren, those are just statistics; their fight against pancreatic cancer is far more personal.

Bob Stevens began experiencing pain in his lower back, maybe a “pulled muscle” in August 2015; by May of this year he would pass away from pancreatic cancer.

So, “Team Bob,” comprised of Debi, daughters Ashley Hudson and Whitney Leuenberger, sister Trudy Sluder, grandchildren Olivia and Eleanor headed to Atlanta last week to participate in the Purple Stride “Wage of Hope” for Pancreatic Cancer.

In all, Debi said, “Team Bob” numbered about 20 individuals among the hundreds who participated.

The event raised over $351,000.

The causes of pancreatic cancer are still not known, though environment, smoking, diet or a history of pancreatitis have been suggested as potential root sources.

There are no tests to determine if you are a candidate for pancreatic cancer or even a test to determine if you are suffering from the disease.

The cancer is typically only found when a tumor has become large enough to cause other medical issues.

Therefore, it is often found too late; once at Stage 4 surgery is usually no longer an option and other treatments are ineffective.

“This type of cancer is growing,” Debi Stevens said. “It is known to be the toughest cancer to treat. It also has the least amount of funding for medical research.”

Last year, 280,000 new cases were diagnosed.

Bob Stevens’ roller coaster with pancreatic cancer highlights the insidious nature of the disease.

Within weeks of first experiencing back pain, Bob continued to have problems in the lower back and felt as if he had come down with food poisoning, Debi said.

In early September, after being admitted to the hospital and undergoing testing, he was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor at the head of his pancreas and given 30 days to live.

Bob was accepted in the Cancer Treatment Centers of America hospital in Atlanta and an aggressive chemotherapy regimen was mapped out, a difficult regimen which Bob survived.

The tumor, testing revealed, was killed, blood counts were in line and Bob seemed a candidate for a procedure to remove the tumor off the blood vessels and two lymph nodes which had tested positive for possible cancer cells.

In the spring of 2016, Bob underwent preventive chemotherapy and radiation, receiving treatment over the span of 11 weeks.

In August 2016 he was declared cancer free.

“This was big news and we were scheduled to be in the April 2017 Cancer Fighters magazine that would showcase our story and our journey,” Debi said.

But, just a few months later, in November, on the day a granddaughter named in his honor was born, Bob experienced pain in his stomach

Within a month chemo started again but Bob’s body could not handle the regimen any longer.

January through March, fluid build-up in his stomach was a continual problem, 12 to 13 pounds of fluid removed at least once every eight days.

The fluid was found to be cancerous in early April and Bob was moved to hospice, passing away May 23.

Throughout the period of the return of symptoms, it was all hands on deck for the Stevens family.

Once daughter, Whitney, earned a doctorate as a Nurse Practitioner and assisted Debi with daily care for Bob despite two children under age 2.

The other daughter, Ashley, with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, returned home each weekend to watch movies with dad and keep his spirits up.

In the end, Bob lived 19 months after being told he had 30 days to live.

“Bob felt that even if he did not make it through the cancer treatments that maybe in some way he would help someone else in the future by being part of a medical trial,” Debi said.

“We believed in the art of positive thinking. Our family and friends were instrumental in visiting and praying for him.”

The family also leaned on Dr. Michael Barnes in Wewahitchka.

“He was instrumental in Bob’s treatment and he truly cares about his patients,” Debi said. “His medical staff was remarkable by helping us any time we contacted the office.

“We could not thank Dr. Barnes enough.”

In honor of Pancreatic Cancer Month, the family this week presented Barnes with a small shrimp boat that resembled the first shrimp boat worked on in his younger days in Apalachicola.

“Bob loved to oyser and go shrimping and he would often share stories with Dr. Barnes about his seafood days,” Debi said.

Debi said the story of Bob’s journey, of the impact on her family, is focused on one thing.

“I am hoping to share awareness of this terrible disease,” Debi said. “Most people don’t understand this disease or their options if given the diagnosis.

“If someone is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer they need to know that patients who participate in clinic research have a better outcome. Every treatment available today was approved through a clinical trial. Funding is needed for nationally-acclaimed grants and clinical inititiatives.”