Former Geneva resident Vicky Waterman had her breasts and ovaries removed because she has BRCA1, a genetic carrier for both types of cancers.
With their kids grown and gone, she sold her fitness studio, V Fusion, in 2016 and she and her husband moved to Naples, Florida, where she continued teaching fitness classes and Pilates, she said.
“Last February , I developed an excruciating pain on the left side of my abdomen overnight,” Waterman said. “It was constant. … Being a dancer and teaching physical fitness, you’re used to pain. I have an extremely high tolerance for pain. I thought, ‘Wow, this is strange.’ ”
By May, she was in so much pain, she could not stand up and had lost 25 pounds. Tests and scans finally revealed by June that she had stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
She learned the BRCA1 gene she has is the culprit.
“Pancreatic cancer – like ovarian cancer – is hard to detect and has subtle symptoms. It hides under a veil of other symptoms like ulcers or irritable bowl syndrome,” Waterman said. “It’s an interesting thing with the BRCA gene. It will never go into remission. It will come back once I stop chemo.”
New research published last year by the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine showed a connection between pancreatic cancer and the BRCA1 and BRCA2 breast and ovarian cancer genetic mutations.
Waterman stood up to breast cancer 10 years ago with a fundraiser. Now she’s going to stand up to pancreatic cancer. Waterman is returning to Illinois to do a two-part exercise fundraiser April 29 at the St. Charles Park District Pottawatomie Community Center, 8 North Avenue, St. Charles.
The event is called Sweat for the Cure. A portion of the proceeds will go to LivingWell Cancer Resource Center in Geneva and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, also known as Pan Can.
The cost is $50. Registration is online at wearableweights.com.
On April 30, Waterman is going to participate in the PanCan PurpleStride at Soldier Field to help fund its work for earlier diagnosis, better treatment and – hopefully – a cure.
Pan Can already has funded research for an early detection blood test, Waterman said.
“It came out a few months after I was diagnosed,” Waterman said.
Madison Silva, a Pan Can spokeswoman, said this will be the 15th anniversary of having the walk at Soldier Field.
Silva said Waterman is a fundraising star for the event.
“She raised $10,000 in three days – more than $14,000 as an individual – and her team raised $17,000,” Silva said. “This is a huge deal for us.”
The impetus for Waterman is not only her own plight, but that pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.
Silva said pancreatic cancer has an 11% survival rate. 89% of those diagnosed will die within the first five years.
A few survive longer such as the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Silva said.
“There are a few success stories, but it is rare,” Silva said.
The organization hosts clinical trials called Precision Promise and one of them is at the University of Chicago.
“We have donated $146 million for pancreatic cancer, specifically for this program,” Silva said. “We have donated a ton of money for research grants to doctors. … We have the largest clinical database in the U.S.”
That it took so long to diagnose Waterman, Silva said, is the common refrain Pan Can hears from people who reach out after learning they have it.
“It gets diagnosed so late because doctors thought it was something else. Especially in rural areas, doctors do not see a lot of pancreatic cancers and do not know how to treat it,” Silva said. “We don’t know what causes it and we don’t know how to prevent it.”
New research has shown a connection between diabetes and pancreatic cancer, but it’s still not clear which came first, she said.
Another benefit of Pan Can is a case manager who assists a patient in how to advocate for themselves, Silva said.
“If you don’t know how to ask these questions, it’s really hard to get an answer,” Silva said. “It’s a one-to-one case manager support system for patients and families and it’s free for anyone who calls.”
For Waterman, every day is a gift and she is focused on being as positive as she can.
“They gave me three to six months and now I’m at nine months,” Waterman said. “I’m doing everything that I can, staying extremely positive.”