A Plum native has turned his grief into good with volunteer work.
Don Furko Jr. of Penn Township—he is a Plum native and Plum High School graduate—was named the affiliate coordinator of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network earlier this week.
Furko has been volunteering with the organization since last year, about a year after his father, Plum resident Don Furko Sr., died from the disease.
Don Furko Sr.—he grew up in Oakmont, raised his family in Plum, and was the former girls' soccer coach at Plum High School—was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the fall of 2010. He died less than two months later.
"When I gave a part of my father's eulogy, I challenged everyone to help me fight pancreatic cancer," Furko said.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths, yet the five year survival rate of 6 percent has remained relatively unchanged in the last 40 years, according to the PanCAN. Furko and other volunteers are working on promoting research and funding for programs that would work toward doubling the survival rate by 2020.
Furko formed a team in memory of his dad for PurpleStride Pittsburgh in August 2011, and raised $1,250 and ran in the 5K race at the event.
Later that fall, Furko, who works for U.S. Steel, went to Harrisburg with his union for the creation of a lobbying group. When he went downstairs, he saw what he called a "sea of purple," the universal color for cancer and pancreatic cancer, and was informed that there was a press conference introducing a state resolution declaring November as Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.
"I pulled out the awareness bracelet I had been wearing and stuck around for the press conference," Furko said.
He then became involved with PanCAN and was named the Education and Outreach Coordinator for the Pittsburgh Affiliate. On Monday, he was named the affiliate coordinator.
"This has pretty much become a large part of my life," he said. "I'm so passionate about this. If I can keep one family from going through what my family has gone through, it's worth it."
To get involved
Anyone interested in volunteering with PanCAN can contact Andrea Bauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There will be a Pittsburgh Pirates Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day on Sunday, June 10. Anyone interested in attending the baseball game or getting more information can contact Furko at email@example.com.
The PurpleStride walk/5K will be held on Aug. 5 in North Park. For more information, contact Julie Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PanCAN also is on Facebook and on Twitter.