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Pumpkin Farmer Planted The Seeds To Raise $25,000 For Pancreatic Cancer Research.

Written By Julia Brabant
November 2021

Diagnosed: Post Surgery, April 16 2021
Current Status: No Sign of Active Cancer

Carving Out Change: A 5-Year Survivor Uses Pumpkins to Fund Pancreatic Cancer Research

A five-year pancreatic cancer survivor, Wisconsin’s Ken Swan knows a thing or two about overcoming adversity. He’s also a 45-year pumpkin farmer whose efforts planted the seeds for more than $25,000 in funding for pancreatic cancer research.

For Ken, the owner of Franksville, Wisconsin’s Swan’s Pumpkin Farm, the first sign something was amiss was sudden weight loss. He dropped an estimated 20-to-30 pounds within a short span, prompting a visit to his local hospital for tests.

A CAT scan followed, revealing a growth on the head of his pancreas. Doctors suspected cancer but were unable to say for sure. Ken began doing some research of his own, realizing that if he did wind up needing major surgery to remove the growth, he wanted it to happen in a place with a medical team that performed such surgeries on a regular basis.

He sought a second opinion at the Cleveland Clinic, which was known for its pancreatic cancer program. The distance from home proved difficult on his family, though, and, on the recommendation of an old high school friend, Ken began seeing the friend’s doctor, Dr. Douglas B. Evans, M.D., F.A.S., at the nearby Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

There, a biopsy had Dr. Evans and his team reaching a similar conclusion. The biopsy wasn’t able to confirm that the growth was cancerous, but the team there knew the probability of it being so was high given how things looked and the symptoms Ken had experienced. They scheduled him for a Whipple procedure, a major abdominal operation that involves taking out the head of the pancreas, part of the small intestine, the gall bladder and the bile duct.

He had the operation April 1, 2016, without having any chemotherapy or radiation first. Instead, he began chemo after the procedure, after giving his body some time off to rest and recover. The Whipple surgery is an undeniably brutal one, but Ken notes that his recovery could have been far worse. He didn’t experience any of the major complications others had warned him about. He didn’t require intensive care afterward, and he didn’t develop diabetes, either, which is also common.

It was only after the surgery that Dr. Evans and his team confirmed what they’d suspected – that the growth on the head of his pancreas was, in fact, cancerous.

Ken completed four rounds of chemo treatments following surgery, wrapping them up shortly before Thanksgiving in 2016. He now takes Creon, a pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy, to help digest certain foods and returned to Dr. Evans for follow-ups every six months until 2020, when he started making those visits annually.

He’s also spent much of the last five years turning his family pumpkin farm business into an economic engine for pancreatic cancer research. In 2016, he launched a “Round Up” campaign where his employees would ask pumpkin customers if they’d like to “round up for pancreatic cancer research” during checkout. He also committed to matching the first $5,000 raised.

In its first year alone, the effort brought in $10,000 from generous community members, leading Ken and his wife, Jolynn, to offer up another $10,000 of their own for the cause. Ken has continued similar efforts in the years since, with 100% of funds raised going directly to the We Care Fund, which performs pancreatic cancer research under the direction of Ken’s own doctor, Dr. Evans.

“Dr. Evans is such a personable gentleman – he really appreciates what we’re doing here,” Ken said. “We saw that we have the ability to raise funds in this way – so we do.”

He also noted that Dr. Evans’ entire team played a vital role in keeping his spirits high during his treatments. “Dr. Evans is very, very good – he’s known worldwide. And he may be the leader, but he’s not doing it all himself.”

Ken is also quick to share his own five-year survivor story with others who are facing, or whose loved ones are facing, similar struggles, with Wisconsin’s Racine Journal Times running a 2017 feature on his and his wife’s farm.

“People who are affected by it – they’ll come up to me now that they know I had pancreatic cancer,” Ken said. “I’m happy to share. I think the success stories are so important.”

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