Joseph Blagg is no stranger to pancreatic cancer. He has known several people who have been affected by this disease. However, recently, this disease has hit close to home. His father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in May 2022, and since then, pancreatic cancer has taken on a whole new dimension.
Thankfully, Blagg has a support system of people who know firsthand what he is going through. With their support, he and his family have been able to cope with Blagg’s father’s diagnosis. Now, Blagg is looking to pay forward the generosity and compassion he received from others by running the Chicago Marathon this year.
Early Detection is Key
Doctors discovered evidence of pancreatic cancer in Blagg’s father when he went to the emergency room for seemingly unrelated symptoms. He was experiencing symptoms of jaundice, which turned out to be caused by the cancer having spread to enclose his bile duct. Blagg was thankful his father went in for testing when he did, because his father ultimately received a good prognosis and the care he received from his doctors.
“Between the oncologist and the surgeon, [they] were really encouraging,” said Blagg, “especially in the beginning, once they got the results back [for my dad] and said, ‘look, this is serious but we like what we see as far as what we believe is going to be the success of the treatment.’”
Blagg and his family did their best to support their father in any way they could. Like many patients, Blagg’s father had to travel for treatment. Blagg himself took on the responsibility of managing the logistics for the trips. He went with his parents to most of his father’s initial appointments and stayed in Beverly Hills while his father went in for his Whipple Surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Overall, Blagg remembers his father’s year-long battle as a very stressful time, despite his father’s good prognosis.
“It was a long year,” said Blagg, “It was really difficult and it’s scary. Even with a good prognosis from the beginning, it’s still a major disease. It was still a tough time for everyone to go through.”
Thankfully, Blagg’s father was able to make a full recovery from surgery, despite suffering an infection shortly after the procedure. Recently, his father has been pronounced cancer free, a prognosis that Blagg is very grateful for. Part of what Blagg believes enabled his father to make such a recovery was the support of his family while his father was going through treatment.
“For us, going through this pancreatic cancer process, I spent a lot of time being thankful for the family members we have,” said Blagg, “and, just, the ability and the resources to go through the treatment program and help out.”
One of Blagg’s biggest takeaways from the experience is the gratitude he feels for the medical community. He believes that modern medicine has made strides toward developing treatments for pancreatic cancer; however, he still thinks that we still have a long way to go. He believes that early detection should be the number one priority for medical professionals.
“This is a very different diagnosis than it was 15, or 20 years ago, but it is still a major disease,” said Blagg. “[During his diagnosis] I learned about how lucky you are to have symptoms that lead to a diagnosis earlier on in the growth stage of pancreatic cancer. Most people don’t get a diagnosis until it’s pretty advanced. Early diagnosis is just a huge key in going through successful treatment.”
Blagg now wants to do his part for the pancreatic cancer community by running to raise awareness and funds for those much-needed early detection methods.
Blagg Gives Back
Blagg has always been a runner. He has enjoyed the sport not just as a physical exercise, but as a mental one as well. He feels like running has become a way for him to unwind from the stresses of everyday life.
“In a busy world, where you are busy with work and kids and everything else, it’s one of those things that kind of forces you to escape and be able to actually think without distractions,” said Blagg. “For me, it has always been a sort of forced reflection.”
So it wasn’t until recently that running a marathon seemed only like a bucket list item he might be able to cross off someday. Now, he is getting ready to run his first marathon in two decades, all to honor the struggle his father, and so many other patients go through when diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“I’m focused on raising awareness,” said Blagg, “and hopefully giving some motivation and hope and inspiration with the [Project Purple] team to other people.”
Blagg researched several charity organizations, looking for one he could run with. When he saw Project Purple, however, something just clicked.
“Project Purple jumped off the page with me,” said Blagg, “I started researching the organization and was just blown away by how big the reach has been. I just really wanted to get involved.”
Blagg is excited to work with Project Purple specifically because of the help they provide to others. He is inspired by the array of programs that Project Purple offers to support current cancer patients.
“I’m really excited about the awareness and the ability to raise some funds for the various programs that Project Purple does which are just incredible,” said Blagg. “There are a ton of people going through this same thing without that support system and resources to be able to travel and pay for food and hotels while they go through treatment. I’m excited to be a part of the team and help raise both the awareness and the funds for Project Purple to be able to continue doing the amazing programs they have been doing.”
A support system is what Blagg thinks has been key to getting through his father’s cancer diagnosis.
“Seeing examples of people coming successfully through the other side of a treatment is a big boost for everyone,” said Blagg.
He also related how he feels that talking with people about the diagnosis has made the process of treatment less intimidating. Knowing he isn’t the only one to go through this with a parent or loved one has helped him cope with the stress of being a caregiver.
“As soon as you make the diagnosis public, you hear, ‘Oh yeah, my uncle went through that same thing five years ago and he’s doing great.’ It’s really helpful to know that you aren’t pioneering, and you’re not the first one to have to go through this. I have been able to talk with those people who have been through it and at various stages can ask, ‘Hey, have you experienced this and how did that go?”’
Having that support has made all the difference to Blagg. Now, he wants to give it back to others.
Running for a Cause
Knowing that support is key, Blagg is prepared to run to give that support to others. He hopes Chicago will be a way to show other caregivers, and patients, that they are not alone. He believes that the more you hear stories about others’ experiences with this disease, the more bearable it may be.
“I think the more information, the better,” said Blagg. “That way it’s not this big scary thing, it’s a hard concrete thing that you can look at all the facts and history and be able to say this is not this big scary unknown. It’s possible to get through it.”
If you are interested in supporting Blagg’s message, you can donate to his campaign by clicking here. If you are interested in running with Project Purple, please click here. Good luck to Blagg and all those who will run in Chicago to spread awareness, and help patients feel less alone.