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Pancreatic cancer survivor: 'You can get through it'

Most people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer don't have symptoms early enough to be curable. Amanda Coughlin was lucky.

TAMPA, Fla. — Thursday is World Pancreatic Cancer Day- the whole world is paying attention to an aggressive disease with a low survival rate.

Here in America, pancreatic cancer has been in the spotlight after popular game show host Alex Trebek delivered a message about the cancer he's trying so hard to beat.

RELATED: Alex Trebek releases PSA for pancreatic cancer awareness: 'I wish I had known sooner'

Alex Trebek shared his diagnosis publicly in March. He started getting more chemo last month.

RELATED: 'Jeopardy!' host Alex Trebek gets choked up at message of love from contestant

Much like Trebek, Amanda Coughlin is learning to live her new life as a pancreatic cancer fighter.

One year ago, at 55-years-old and in the best shape of her life, Coughlin learned she had pancreatic cancer.

"I remember being in my car and reading those words and shaking. I saw my hands shaking on the piece of paper...that's what I remember. Being shocked by that."

Like most pancreatic cancer patients, Coughlin had very few symptoms. After pesky upper back pain, an ultrasound caught the tumor and she was lucky to be a candidate for surgery. Most are not.

Surgical Oncologist, Dr. Pam Hodul with Moffitt Cancer Center performed the surgery on Coughlin.

"She had the true fighting spirit of a warrior so I know right off the bat that she's going to do well but her tumor was in a tough area," said Dr. Hodul.

Coughlin started chemo and radiation to shrink the tumor in her pancreas. Six weeks later she had surgery to remove half her pancreas and re-route her digestive system followed by more chemotherapy.

Coughlin is still not in the clear.

In 70-percent of cases, there is a chance for recurrence of the cancer even after surgery.

There are no screening options for pancreatic cancer and most patients don't have symptoms early enough to be curable. Recently, the number of pancreatic cancer diagnoses have gone up.

Dr. Hodul said, "With more and more patients presenting with Type 2 Diabetes and obesity as increased risk factors, we're now starting to think that may be a contributing factor to the increase in the incidence."

While this cancer doesn't come with a lot of promise...patients like Amanda Coughlin and Alex Trebek come with a lot of fight.

Doctors believe a focus on prevention, detection, and research are the first steps to curing pancreatic cancer.

Researchers at Moffitt Cancer Center just started a new trial for pancreatic cancer treatment.

Doctors are attempting to use the patient's immune system to recognize and kill the cancer cells. This type of therapy is called CAR – T for pancreatic cancer. This trial is currently open for enrollment.

RELATED: 'I'm so fricking lucky': Prognosis usually grim for pancreatic cancer patients

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