Hope for a Better Tomorrow: Janice Canfield Runs the NYC Half with Project Purple

Janice Canfield had never considered herself a runner. A New York native, Canfield has worked as a registered nurse for 24 years, and recently, has been a nurse practitioner for Northwell Long Island Jewish Medical Center for the past nine. After her pancreatic cancer diagnosis, however, Canfield picked up the sport to help her raise awareness for this disease. She ran the 2024 New York City Half Marathon this year, the first of many races she hopes to run with the charity to further their life-saving mission. She dreams that her efforts will encourage and inspire patients to hold out for hope.

“Never give up on hope,” she said.

Now, she is a year cancer-free and is using her story to inspire other patients to keep fighting.

Jaundice Out of the Blue

In September 2022, Canfield’s father pointed out a change in her complexion. She remembers not thinking much of it at the time.

“My father told me I looked a little yellow. I thought it was just the end of summer tan, but I was having some stomach issues,” said Canfield.

Canfield called to make an appointment with her primary care physician, but in the meantime, she asked the dermatologist at her scheduled appointment what they thought. While Canfield was fine waiting for her primary care appointment, the dermatologist insisted on running some tests. Canfield will always be grateful for her physician, because soon after, she received a call. Her liver enzymes were through the roof.

“I was enjoying a beautiful lunch with my aunt,” Canfield remembers. “My primary called and asked me a simple question. He said, ‘Are you in any pain?’ I told him no. He said, ‘Jaundice in the absence of any pain can be sinister.’ I will never forget that.”

Her primary care doctor urged her to go to the ER. At the hospital, her doctors ordered a CT scan. Canfield thought she was going to end up testing positive for liver cancer. LInstead, her scans showed a mass at the head of her pancreas that was compressing the bile duct. Canfield had pancreatic cancer.

There was no mystery for Canfield about what a pancreatic cancer diagnosis meant. Canfield, as a nurse practitioner, was acquainted with the disease from her work but had also seen the disease up close. Her brother-in-law, at the time, was also battling pancreatic cancer. So when Canfield finally received her diagnosis, she admitted that she felt a little crazy.

“‘I’m going to die,”’ Canfield remembers thinking. “Pancreatic cancer is a hard one to survive, and when you know– it makes it harder. I thought, ‘I’m so full of life, I have so much to do.’”

Immediately, Canfield was scheduled for a Whipple procedure. She was thankful to be in the hands of physicians from her own network of hospitals. Her surgeon, Dr. William Nealon, was able to remove part of her pancreas, small intestine, gallbladder, and bile duct, along with the tumor. The seven-hour surgery took care of the worst of it, but Canfield still underwent chemotherapy for six months after her surgery. She finished chemo in May of 2023. Since then, Canfield is happy to say that she is cancer-free!

Throughout her treatment process, her family was a huge support. When Canfield received her diagnosis, her family was working on a new house, and was in between places as the house was being built. She is so grateful for all the support her parents gave her at the time, allowing the family to stay with them while she underwent treatment.

“My parents were amazing,” Canfield recalls.

Canfield learned a lot from her experiences with pancreatic cancer. She feels that more needs to be done to support patients during their diagnosis, and more importantly, a way to prevent the disease.

“I cannot believe they haven’t come up with a screening tool,” said Canfield. “There needs to be more done for pancreatic cancer research.”

To do her part to help fellow patients through this disease, Canfield has taken up fundraising. Now, she is working with Project Purple to make a difference in the fight against pancreatic cancer.

Passion turns to Purpose 

Canfield is no stranger to running, but her passion for the sport has only grown since her diagnosis. Before pancreatic cancer entered her life, Canfield had done a few different races here and there, all for the pure enjoyment of getting out and moving her body. 

“I don’t care about my time, my goal is to finish,” said Canfield. “Now, it really clears my head sometimes. I pray when I run, or walk. I like it…I wasn’t a runner as a child, it was really when I got older. But, I’m not an avid runner.” 

After her diagnosis though, running has become linked with pancreatic cancer for Canfield. One of her first races after her Whipple was the Great Cow Harbor 10K Run on Long Island. Canfield walked with 28 members of her family and friends, including her sons who ran the full race and husband, who cheered her on from the sidelines. Canfield, before she was diagnosed, had been planning a trip to Antarctica that had to be postponed for treatment. So, she named her team Janice’s Purple Penguins, not just in honor of her pancreatic cancer journey, but in the hopes that she would get to see actual penguins in the near future. 

Since getting back into running, Canfield has participated in other races, including the New York City Half Marathon with Project Purple early this year. Canfield was so excited to get the opportunity to run with the organization. She admires their tight-knit, community-focused organization, and hopes to run a lot more races with Project Purple in the future. 

“I plan to run the half again next year,” said Canfield. “I would love to do a full marathon at some point!” 

Canfield hopes that her efforts will help inspire other patients on their journeys with this disease. 

“I want to give hope to those patients who are feeling as I did, you know, doom and gloom… I felt like I didn’t want to waste my survivorship and wanted to pay it forward to others.” 

In the Moment

In 2027, Canfield will be past the five-year survival marker, and she is really looking forward to it. Canfield knows exactly what she will be doing on her five-year anniversary. 

“My brother-in-law, who might as well have been a sommelier, he knew so much about wines, bought me a bottle of wine that’s supposed to peak in 2027. And he said, don’t open this until the five-year mark. I bought my entire family one bottle, and I said, ‘This is for everybody, so in September of 2027, wherever you are, we can all enjoy it together.” 

In the meantime, she has been filling her life with new experiences. She has traveled to multiple different countries over the past few years, and even made it to the continent of Antarctica. In 2024, she and her sister decided to visit Singapore for the Taylor Swift Eras Tour!

“The way I’m living now, I’m like, YOLO,” said Canfield. “I don’t want to postpone anything.”

Janice can’t wait to run with Project Purple again. She has signed up for the virtual run with her entire family all over the country to continue to raise awareness for this disease. To read other survival stories like Janice’s please visit our News & Stories Page. To find out how you can get involved in the fight against pancreatic cancer, visit Ways To Give.

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