As many Americans, I was deeply saddened by the news of Sally Ride's passing today at the age of 61. The first woman and youngest astronaut to enter space, at age 32, Ride inspired hope and awe in many. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who was surprised that she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 17 months ago.After my initial sadness, my first thought was, "Wow, she lived 17 months with pancreatic cancer." About 74 percent of patients die within a year of diagnosis. Sally made it to 17 months. And then I felt anger. When is 17 months of cancer survival a cause for amazement? It only shows the stark reality that pancreatic cancer desperately needs more research, funding and public awareness. Julie Fleshman, president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, said in a statement released tonight, "Sally Ride was an inspiration for all Americans, not just young women who learned from her extraordinary example that anything is possible. At 61, Ms. Ride's life was cut entirely too short by a ruthless disease. Ms. Ride is one of nearly 38,000 Americans who will lose their battle with pancreatic cancer this year. Unfortunately, just six percent of pancreatic cancer patients survive their diagnosis after five years – a rate that has stayed unacceptably consistent."You can read the full statement from the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network here.I was encouraged when I heard about the AACR's and Pancreatic Cancer Action Network's large-scale research meeting this past month, "Progress and Challenges." Research is moving fast in this field and there are signs of hope, including new treatments and new targets in pancreatic cancer. It appears we may finally be unraveling some of its mysteries. In response to her becoming the first woman in space, Ride was quoted as saying, "It's too bad this is such a big deal. It's too bad our society isn't further along." Farewell, Sally.
Photo courtesy of NASA