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Published: Monday, 5/2/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Growers, victim's sister unite against pancreatic cancer

Sales of petunia variety to raise funds for research

BY CARL RYAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Joe Perlaky, left, of Maumee Valley Growers, Kelly Kinney, whose brother died of pancreatic cancer, and Tom Wardell, of Wardell's Garden Center in Waterville Township, show denim shock wave petunias. Joe Perlaky, left, of Maumee Valley Growers, Kelly Kinney, whose brother died of pancreatic cancer, and Tom Wardell, of Wardell's Garden Center in Waterville Township, show denim shock wave petunias.
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Toledoan Kelly Kinney is getting the word out: Think purple. And while you're at it, grow purple.

She wants the community to think purple because it's the awareness color for pancreatic cancer, just as pink is the much better-known color for breast cancer.

She wants people to buy and grow purple flowers as a way of contributing to a fund-raising drive she has organized in conjunction with the Maumee Valley Growers to support pancreatic cancer research and treatment.

The fund-raiser, called "Plant Purple -- Grow Hope," features 16 northwest Ohio retail greenhouses that have agreed to sell a distinctive purple flower called the denim shock wave petunia. The young flowers can be grown inside or outside.

Through June 30, the greenhouses will remit 50 cents from every purple petunia pot sale to the Translational Genomics Research Institute, also known as "TGen," in Phoenix. The money will go to TGen's research initiative in pancreatic cancer called Global Cure.

For Ms. Kinney, the fund-raising effort is entirely personal.

She lost her brother, Bret Connors, to pancreatic cancer in October, 2009. He was two days shy of his 52nd birthday when he died and had put up a valiant fight against the disease, which is considered largely incurable and kills about 35,000 people a year in the United States.

Mr. Connors learned when he was 48 that he had the illness and beat the odds by living as long as he did.

The overall one-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer patients is 20 percent; the five-year rate is less than 5 percent. Actor Patrick Swayze, who died in 2009, lived about 18 months after his diagnosis. The survival rate is low because the cancer usually has spread by the time it is detected.

Ms. Kinney said her brother, who was a Scottsdale, Ariz., resident, lived as long as he did with the disease because he underwent clinical trials at TGen. She hopes that the money raised by "Plant Purple -- Grow Hope" will enable others suffering from pancreatic cancer to obtain similar cutting-edge treatment and advance researchers' knowledge of the disease.

Through June 30, 50 cents from every pot of purple petunias sold will be contributed toward research on pancreatic cancer. Through June 30, 50 cents from every pot of purple petunias sold will be contributed toward research on pancreatic cancer.
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo

"Some amazing things are going on in pancreatic cancer research," she said. "They are on the brink of doing genotyping, which could tell you if you are predisposed to it. If you knew you were predisposed, you could get checked more often and be aware."

TGen's director of development, Erin Massey, said "Plant Purple -- Grow Hope" is the first fund-raiser of its kind for her institution.

She said pancreatic cancer is considered a relatively rare form of cancer and doesn't get the same attention or funding as the better-known cancers such as breast cancer, which afflicts about 1 out of 8 women eventually.

"Publicizing the disease this way through the greenhouses is incredible," Ms. Massey said.

Ms. Kinney said her inspiration is the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, which has raised billions for research, treatment, education, and other activities related to breast cancer and made itself almost a household name in the process.

"We have every intention of growing nationally," she said. "My goal is to do for pancreatic cancer what the Komen Foundation has done for breast cancer."

Joe Perlaky, program manager for Maumee Valley Growers, described the denim shock wave petunia as a hardy annual that can be kept potted indoors or put in the ground outside. "It doesn't take much care. It's a really good choice," he explained. "They should last the whole summer."

Tom Wardell, owner of Wardell's Garden Center in Waterville Township, said he has about 100 of the plants and is eager to see how the public takes to them. "We're happy to take part in this and do something positive," he said.

The other participating greenhouses can be found on the Maumee Valley Growers Web site at maumee valleygrowers.com.

Contact Carl Ryan at: carlryan@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.



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