Death of "papa" inspires teen to fight pancreatic cancer

Victoria Erdman is a strong, brave teenager who is turning her grief into action by carrying on her "papa's" mission to fight pancreatic cancer.

"He believed he had this horrible disease for a reason, to inspire him to help other people in the same position," Erdman, 14, told 11Alive News. "Regardless of whether my papa was sick or healthy, he always found a way to help others who were affected by this disease."

Victoria's stepfather, John Couvillon, started a new foundation called Destroy Pancreatic Cancer (DPC) before he died a few months ago.

He was undergoing chemotherapy for a recurrence of pancreatic cancer.

Victoria is honoring his memory by organizing DPC's first fundraiser, "The Purple Parade 5K," which will take place on October 21 at Garrard Landing Park in Alpharetta, starting at 9 a.m.

“I believe that no child, wife or husband, mother or father, brother or sister, or any loved one should have to lose someone to this horrible disease," Victoria said. "Until we work together and take a stand, very few advances will be made in curing this ‘death sentence.’”

John's cancer fight was long and tough on his family.

"When he was first diagnosed, I was in fourth grade and my mom and papa both shielded me from what was happening. I now understand it was to protect me from fear," Victoria explained. "As I got older, they began to share a little more with me."

When Victoria started sixth grade, John went into remission and began to feel better.

A year later, his cancer returned.

"Even at that time, he was thinking about other people by telling me positive things so I wouldn’t worry. He was a very spiritual man. Through the good times and bad, he never wavered in his belief he would beat this disease," she added.

John lost his battle as he began to build DPC.

"I want other families to know that pancreatic cancer is horrible disease that is predicted to kill over 56,000 people in America this year. I want them to know that as soon as we join forces and work together we CAN make a difference to prolong life and improve outcomes," Victoria added. "We must come together and be determined in order to destroy pancreatic cancer.”

Victoria said she will remember her "papa" as "a hilarious, huge-hearted man with the strongest determination and will to live I have ever seen."

Destroy Pancreatic Cancer is a non-profit organization with the goal of funding clinical trials and advancing research that leads to earlier detection and improved treatment options.

It's now run by Howard Young, a 15-year pancreatic cancer survivor.

Clinical trials will be led by Daniel D. Von Hoff, M.D., F.A.C.P., physician in chief and director of translational research at the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix and the world’s foremost pancreatic cancer researcher; Douglas Evans, M.D., chair of the Department of Surgery at The Medical College of Wisconsin and one of the nation’s top surgical oncologists; and W. Perry Ballard, III, M.D., co-founder of Atlanta’s Piedmont Cancer Institute, an MD Anderson Cancer Network certified member. 

In addition to funding clinical trials, DPC is committed to providing a landing spot for sufferers and survivors. The foundation’s motto, Hope and a Plan, is counter to the stigma surrounding pancreatic cancer – one that offers little promise of a cure.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer. More than 70 percent of people diagnosed will die in the first year and less than 10 percent will survive 5 years.

Proceeds from the Purple Parade 5K will fund research and clinical trials, as well as provide critical support to patients and their families. 

© 2017 WXIA-TV


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