PanCAN Japan, headed by President Yoshi Majima and based in Tokyo, was formed in 2006 as an autonomous extension of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Like the U.S.-based Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, PanCAN Japan’s mission is to advance research, support patients and create hope. It does so by offering patient services as well as leading advocacy efforts to increase pancreatic cancer research funding in Japan.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death there.

Yoshi Majima, president of PanCAN Japan

Yoshi Majima, president of PanCAN Japan

“The reason I do what I do is because of my sister,” Majima said. “She was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer in the summer of 2004, and it was then that I learned about the five-year survival rate. She survived 18 months.”

Majima got information online about the disease and treatment options from the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network – nothing existed in Japan. He was living in California at the time, so he arranged a meeting with CEO Julie Fleshman to discuss what could be done back home to support patients. Both were hopeful that a collaboration could help accelerate a change in patient outcomes.

“A natural first step was for me to take the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s patient education materials and translate them into Japanese, because my professional background included translating and selling educational materials,” he said.

Once founded, PanCAN Japan got early funding through a grant from a pharmaceutical company that enabled it, in conjunction with local disease specialists, to host educational seminars for patients and caregivers throughout the country. Today, the organization works with medical institutions in different regions to disseminate patient materials.

Yoshi Majima with Ralph Hruban MD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Yoshi Majima with Ralph Hruban MD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Because PanCAN Japan employs such a small team (just Majima and one other full-time employee; volunteers help when they can), they’re only able to take calls from patients three days a week for three hours a day. When Majima isn’t fielding patient calls, he is working to encourage the government to fund more pancreatic cancer research, bring more advocates to the cause, create a survivor program (through the Japanese version of the American Association of Cancer Research) and encourage the creation of more clinical trials. In fact, he said his proudest achievement to date was being instrumental in reducing the approval time for first-line pancreatic cancer drugs from five years to two.

PanCAN Japan is gearing up for its fourth annual fundraiser walk – PurpleStride Tokyo, which will take place on Nov. 13. About 500 people are expected. Two additional walks are also slated in the cities of Mie and Hiroshima.

In 2012, Majima himself had a pancreatic cancer scare when physicians discovered stage 0 carcinoma in situ through a CT scan. He had his pancreas removed and today is doing well.

He said he is pleased to be a member of the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition and that he hopes to see the creation of international clinical trials driven by the WPCC. “As a global coalition, we can paint the big picture for pharma companies,” he said.

He added, “The great thing about the WPCC overall is that we members don’t need to spend time reinventing the wheel – in many cases, solutions are already here for us to take advantage of and learn from.”

The Danish pancreatic cancer patient organization Pancreasnetvaerket i Danmark came into being in the spring of 2015, upon the initiative of Mr. and Mrs. Niels-Erik and Gunna Olsen. When Olsen was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the fall of 2014, he and his wife quickly realized there was an urgent need for an organization that could distribute information about this rarely known disease and provide support for patients and their caregivers. Therefore, they took upon themselves the Herculean task of organizing the first nationwide pancreatic cancer patients’ conference in Denmark, which took place at the University Hospital in Odense in May 2015. More than 50 patients and caregivers from across the country attended, listening to presentations from leading Danish surgeons and oncologists.

The Pancreasnetvaerket i Danmark team at a rally at Copenhagen Central Station on World Pancreatic Cancer Day 2015.

The Pancreasnetvaerket i Danmark team at a rally at Copenhagen Central Station on World Pancreatic Cancer Day 2015.

Olsen passed away shortly after this successful event. But another pancreatic cancer patient, Inger Marie Amdi, stepped in, and with the backing of a small steering committee, she officially founded the network and initiated the organizing for the Danish events on World Pancreatic Cancer Day on Nov. 13, 2015. A rally at the Central Station in Copenhagen reached out to thousands of train passengers that morning, and later in the day, 65 patients and caregivers gathered at the University Hospital in Herlev to hear presentations from leading Danish surgeons, oncologists and professors in palliative care from all the major Danish hospitals.

Once again, the Danish organization was hit hard when Amdi passed away in February 2016. But the steering committee regrouped, adding new members and continuing the much-needed organizing. Thus, Pancreasnetvaerket i Danmark was represented by Poul Ejby Rasmussen at the inaugural conference of the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition in Orlando, Fla., in May 2016.

Rasmussen said that today, the organization is confronted with three major tasks.

“First and foremost is the continued recruitment of new members – not an easy task, by the nature of the disease we have in common,” he said. “Next, we must continue to give support and counselling to both patients and caregivers. And finally, despite our limited numbers and resources, we are being called upon by the Danish health authorities to give our input into the ongoing reorganization and improvement of pancreatic cancer care in Denmark.

“So, the plate in front of us is more than full.”

Poul Ejby Rasmussen of Pancreasnetvaerket i Danmark speaks at the inaugural conference of the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition in Orlando, Fla., in May 2016.

Poul Ejby Rasmussen of Pancreasnetvaerket i Danmark speaks at the inaugural conference of the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition in Orlando, Fla., in May 2016.

Rasmussen added that he was extremely grateful to have the backing of the WPCC, saying: “We cannot increase public awareness about this dreadful disease all by ourselves, not to mention raising funds for much-needed research. For this very important work, we rely upon the WPCC.”

The greatest achievement of Pancreasnetvaerket i Danmark so far?

“That we are still here, trying to help pancreatic cancer patients and caregivers in any way we can,” Rasmussen said.

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Pancreatic Cancer Network South Africa was established in 2014 in honor of Founder Carla Bailey’s late mother and uncle, who both fought the disease bravely. She founded the organization to offer hope and support to those fighting pancreatic cancer. “Before our organization was established, no light was shed on this disease and we knew little about it. I felt that people needed to know…to stand a better chance at survival,” Bailey said.

The organization raises awareness through events, such as an annual golf day, cycling events and World Pancreatic Cancer Day. They also educate the public on early symptoms and risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer as well as offer survivors a platform to communicate with other survivors and share information. “Our reach has gone as far as Namibia and has proven that survivors on the African continent needed a ‘home,’” Bailey said.

Pancreatic Cancer Network South Africa is currently working with the City of Cape Town Employee Wellness Programme, and staff travels to a different depo/area each week where they meet between 60 and 600 employees to talk about pancreatic cancer.

The organization recently hosted its first pancreatic cancer survivors support group meeting in South Africa and Africa. They hope to expand to having a support line in South Africa, as they have found that survivors who are in treatment aren’t sure whom to contact should an emergency arise, if they are experiencing any side effects or just need advice.

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The organization also provides care packs for survivors, which include a branded bag, purple towel/blanket, BPA-free water bottle, inspirational book, journal and healthy snacks, as well as information about the disease.

Bailey said that she would love to have access to information, materials and training from other WPCC member organizations, as well as access to any volunteer and nurses training modules to implement in South Africa.

“Not reinventing the wheel would be great!” she said.

This year on World Pancreatic Cancer Day, Bailey said the community looks forward to turning iconic sites in South Africa purple and building relationships with other advocacy organizations to drive change in South Africa and Africa.

The first-ever World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition (WPCC) gathered for its inaugural meeting in Orlando, Fla., May 10-14, bringing together over 50 Coalition members from nearly 20 different countries from around the globe.

Though the inaugural Coalition meeting has come to a close, member organizations have begun to set their sights on future activities, including the second World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition meeting in 2017 and this year’s World Pancreatic Cancer Day (WPCD).

In other news, 10 individuals have been appointed to the WPCC Steering Committee, and eight others have been asked to serve on the WPCD Committee. Both groups will be working hard in the coming months to develop plans for various activities.

The WPCC Committee is also excited to announce that next year’s meeting will take place in Montreal, Canada, May 2-5, 2017.

Meanwhile, the WPCD committee is finalizing plans for the big day on Nov. 17, 2016. WPCC and WPCD Committee members anticipate that this year’s WPCD campaign will be even bigger and better than the 2015 campaign that had an estimated reach of over 1,000,000.

Congratulations to the first World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition Steering Committee members:

And to the first World Pancreatic Cancer Day Committee members: