Fueling the Fight Against Pancreatic Cancer

When Maija Eerkes was a kid, she enjoyed looking through the microscopes in the Virginia Mason microbiology lab where her mom worked. When she was 16, Maija volunteered as a candy striper, where she handed out flowers and books to Virginia Mason patients. But in 2006, when she was in her 50s and had just retired as a Bank of America executive, Maija came here for another reason: She’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. And she’d heard Vincent Picozzi, MD, could offer hope against this deadly disease.

“My tumor was inoperable,” Maija says. “One doctor suggested a treatment plan that was essentially palliative care. But Dr. Picozzi took a different approach: He prescribed an aggressive treatment plan using chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy. And without him, I wouldn’t be here.”

Thirteen years later, Maija is still cancer-free. She’s living life to the fullest, spending much of her time skiing in Sun Valley, Idaho. She generously donates to Virginia Mason’s pancreatic cancer program and Dr. Picozzi’s work, and she and her husband included this work in their estate planning.

Since her treatment, Maija has been an advocate for pancreatic cancer research and funding, both locally and nationally. She also volunteers as a helpful resource for patients (and their caregivers) who are going through pancreatic cancer treatment.

“Pancreatic cancer is very daunting — some doctors almost present it as a death sentence,” she says. “I do anything I can to give people hope.”

Dr. Picozzi’s work pushing forward more precise and personalized treatments gives her optimism for the future.

“The five-year survival rates are grim — only about 10 percent — and people look at me like I’m crazy when I say I’m 13 years out,” she says. “I support Dr. Picozzi and the Cancer Institute’s work because I have no doubt that it will lead to advances in care that will change those numbers for the better.”

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