Turning purple lights on in memory of his father

Daniel MacEachern
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Businessman's campaign aims to raise money to fight pancreatic cancer

Mike Wahl, owner of fitness company Definitions, has launched the Purple Lights for John campaign to rase the public profile of and funds for the fight against pancreatic cancer, which killed his father John last year. — Photo by Daniel MacEachern/The Telegram

St. John’s businessman Mike Wahl has his father’s parting advice tattooed on his chest: “Find happiness.”

Wahl, the owner of fitness company Definitions, lost his father John a year ago to pancreatic cancer. Since then, Wahl and his family are taking up the battle against the disease in honour of John.

Wahl can rattle off the statistics, learned both through his own educational pursuits — he’s working towards a PhD in epidemiology — and the research done with his family after his father was diagnosed with cancer.

“It’s the only one in the Top 10 killers that still has a single-digit survival rate after five years,” he said.

“The average lifespan after diagnosis is three to six months. It kills almost as many people as breast cancer a year. Thirty-nine hundred people were diagnosed in 2009, and 3,900 people died. It’s a lethal killer. It’s a death sentence.”

It’s responsible for five per cent of cancer deaths in Canada, says Wahl, but as a charitable cause, it attracts just 0.1 per cent of fundraising and 0.8 per cent of research dollars. “There are no people surviving to be advocates for it,” he said.

“Breast cancer has survivors to root and cheer and raise money and so does prostate cancer, but no one survives pancreatic cancer. Even Steve Jobs — he had all the money in the world and he couldn’t survive it.”

Wahl stresses he doesn’t want to pit charitable causes against each other, but he wants to raise the profile of — and funding for — the disease that whittled his 6’1” father down to 85 pounds by the time he died, 11 months after his diagnosis, at the age of 65. Because pancreatic cancer kills so quickly and so effectively, said Wahl, the cost in people’s lives is staggering.

“You look at things like quality of life, morbidity, mortality — usually how you decide which diseases to treat or which ones to fund depending on how many years of life are lost, or what the quality of life is,” he said.

 “But in this case, people are losing dramatic amounts of years of life because it’s killing way too young, and there’s very little that’s been done on the research side of it,” Wahl said.

Wahl’s spearheading the Purple Lights for John campaign, a local version of the Canada-wide campaign that will see iconic structures like the CN Tower symbolically lit with purple lights. People can order strings of purple lights to put on display in November, for $25 from Pancreatic Cancer Canada by calling 1-888-726-2269. Search “Purple Lights for John” on Facebook for more information on the local campaign.

Wahl’s family feels getting involved would be the best way to honour how hard John Wahl fought cancer, and to provide funds and hopes for other sufferers and their families.

“The reason why we’ve decided to do this is that there are other families who are going through the exact same thing,” he said. “There’s not much motivation for someone to fight if they know they’re going to die. My dad did it for us, and he had us, but for others, it ruins their last bit of life. It’s a death sentence. There needs to be something done to treat it.”

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • sherry
    November 28, 2013 - 13:40

    Thanks Mike, Money for research is certainly needed! My father-in-law, also named "John" just died Nov. 19, 2013. He lived only two months after his "accidental" diagnosis. Canada (and the world) needs to get more money for treatment. Your efforts are truly appreciated sherry