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Cancer fight is on the march

Walk for Hope organizers hope to raise six figures in this year’s Bethlehem event

Neil and Shari Piper have collaborated with the community to establish the area's annual Walk for Hope to raise awareness for pancreatic cancer. It takes place each fall in the Town of Bethlehem.

Neil and Shari Piper have collaborated with the community to establish the area's annual Walk for Hope to raise awareness for pancreatic cancer. It takes place each fall in the Town of Bethlehem.

— Pancreatic cancer is an unwelcome tradition in Neil Piper’s family.

After losing four family members to the disease, and being at risk himself along with his niece, the Bethlehem resident knew he had to raise awareness of the “silent killer.”

“Usually it’s too late by the time you’re diagnosed,” said Piper. “There are no warning signs until it’s in its late stages.”

After losing his brother in 2002, Piper and his wife, Shari, began working with the Lustgarten Foundation to support its mission in finding treatment and early detection methods for pancreatic cancer. Through that group’s partnership with Cablevision, 100 percent of all donated funds go directly to cancer research.

Two years later, the Pipers held the first annual Albany-Capital District Walk for Hope in support of pancreatic cancer. It involved about 15 people who raised $4,000.

The walk is now in its ninth year and in 2011 raised about $90,000 with the help of 400 people. In total, the walk has raised about $500,000 for the Lustgarten Foundation. This year’s goal is to breach the $100,000 mark.

According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 71 people in the United State will develop pancreatic cancer, and those rates have increased by 1.5 percent since 2004. The survival rate after one year of diagnosis is 20 percent, while the survival rate after five years drops significantly to 4 percent. It is the fourth most deadly form of cancer in the country.

Despite these statistics, pancreatic cancer remains largely out of the spotlight. But everyone involved with putting together the Walk for Hope has been touched by pancreatic cancer in some way.

Diane Luther, a walk committee organizer from Cohoes, lost two brothers. She got involved with the group because when she lost her sibling in the early 1980s, when little was known about the disease and few people even knew it existed.

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