November was declared Pancreatic Cancer Month in 2020 after several American leaders battled the very aggressive cancer, including Congressman John Lewis and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Nicknamed “The Silent Killer”, because it silently spreads before being detected. There is not currently a test for early detection of this type of cancer, which only makes up for 3% of all cancers. It is expected that over 62,000 people will be diagnosed, and close to 50,000 people are expected to die from it in 2022.
The goal in declaring November as Pancreatic Cancer Month was to raise awareness and funds for cancer research at the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health. Pancreatic Cancer is the 7th deadliest cancer worldwide and symptoms are usually not present during the early stages of the disease, but even when they are present, symptoms are not obvious. Back aches, pain in the upper abdomen, changes in bowels, dark urine and fatigue are a few of the symptoms that can be easy to ignore.
Aretha Franklin, Alan Rickman, Steve Jobs, and Patrick Swayze are all names you may know and are all people who died from pancreatic cancer over the years.
A name you won’t know is Brandon Harbour, a 45-year-old father of 4 beautiful children and a husband for over twenty years. Brandon is a native Alaskan who loves and cherishes everything Alaska has to offer – hockey, fishing, hunting and more.
After serving in the Navy in his early 20’s, Brandon returned to Alaska and most recently was working for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), until he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June of 2022.
“Brandon is a father, husband, son, uncle, and he’s also my big brother” said MaLane Harbour.
“Working in healthcare for 14 years with many of those being in hospice, I knew the diagnosis was less than ideal – actually, to phrase it better, the diagnosis was gut wrenching. My outgoing, sarcastic, best storytelling, bossy big brother was diagnosed with a cancer that’s prognosis gave him a 10% survival rate if he were to beat the cancer, but if not, he would have about three to three and a half years to live” Harbour recollects. These facts will differ, depending on the resource as some state it’s a 7% survival rate over 5 years and others state it’s 11%, however; none of those statistics are what a family wants to ever hear about their loved one.
A Personal Note from MaLane Harbour
As I write this, only five months after receiving the diagnosis, I reflect on everything that has happened in such a short amount of time. My brother has been a guest of the local hospital in Anchorage, Alaska on two different occasions after a procedure caused him to get an infection and he went septic. A second infection, after another procedure, had him as a guest of the hospital yet again. His first round of chemotherapy was unsuccessful (the goal being to shrink the tumor to be able to remove it) and he is currently on his second round of chemotherapy; this time losing all his hair.
Cancer doesn’t just suck, it breaks your heart at every set back. Every failed treatment, hospital stay, failed procedure and days that your loved one stays in bed not feeling well – it breaks your heart again and again.
Is there hope? Of course. Without having hope of a positive outcome, we would all go crazy. Dark humor has gotten us through some of the low’s but sometimes nothing can lend comfort and you must give in to the pain and let yourself cry. Our family does that in private because the need to be strong for each other far outweighs the need to fall apart.
“I love you’s” have been said more than ever.
Family fights have been mended.
Trips have been made.
Each day is a blessing to be able to say “I love you,” and provides each of us the hope of making it to the finish line of this damn “fight”.
“I’m sure a minor setback won’t change anything, as we’ll beat this at a later date,” Brandon wrote after discovering his first round of chemotherapy didn’t work. His continued optimism keeps everyone hopeful during the hardest times our family has ever had to face.
In closing, I can’t stop thinking of listening to Brandon sing to his first born, Dylan; who is now twenty years old. When he would cry as a newborn, all my brother would have to do is sing Merle Haggard’s “Big City” and Dylan would just stare at him in awe.
“Turn me lose, set me free
Somewhere in the middle of Montana
And give me all I’ve got coming to me.”
If you are interested in donating to the research of pancreatic cancer, here is a great website on nine options to do your research as to where your dollars can go:
To follow Brandon Harbour’s journey, go to his Facebook group “Harbour Strong #11” at