Stage IV pancreatic cancer survivor and family on summer vacation

Joe Krebs, center, on a family vacation last summer in Delaware.

Editor’s note: Our series of stories continues, celebrating – and remembering – beloved fathers in honor of Father’s Day.

Joe Krebs didn’t give or get hugs from his two daughters and three grandchildren on Father’s Day this year. Instead, he and his wife celebrated with them via Zoom video call. Though separated due to coronavirus precautions, they were grateful they could be together, even if virtually.

On Father’s Day three years ago, Joe was experiencing stomach pain and vomiting. Bloodwork revealed elevated bilirubin and blood sugar levels. Symptoms that, 10 days later, after an ultrasound and MRI, led doctors to discover a growth on his pancreas.

Today, after the Whipple procedure, radiation and other treatments, including chemotherapy, Joe is feeling great – and, he said, extremely fortunate.

He recorded a video to be shared during the virtual opening ceremony of PurpleStride Washington, D.C., earlier this month, in which he shared his story as well as the best advice he’s received since hearing the news he had pancreatic cancer.

Opening ceremonies video for PurpleStride Washington, D.C. 2020, features Joe Krebs, starting at the 5:55 mark.

Joe learned about the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) when he met with his oncologist at Georgetown University.

“He set me on the right path for how to deal with this diagnosis,” Joe said. “Aside from telling me not to let the diagnosis take over my life, he said, ‘You are going to be tempted to Google pancreatic cancer. I would encourage you not to do that because you’re going to see a lot of horror stories. But if you do go online, only go to pancan.org.'”

Pancreatic cancer survivor with his team at PanCAN's 5K walk in Washington, D.C.

Joe and family, part of Team “With a Name Like Krebs” at PurpleStride Washington, D.C. 2019.

One of the first things Joe saw at pancan.org was information about its PurpleStride walks.

“I’ve got to do this!” he thought. “Raising money was a motivating factor for me to get off my butt and start doing something, anything positive to help this cause.

“Asking people to donate gives me a chance to explain why I’m asking – what the need is and how beneficial it is to the cause. Then when they donate, you can reconnect with a thank you note, a personal touch I really enjoy.”

Joe said the benefits of joining his local PurpleStride and being a part of PanCAN’s mission are many:

“There’s a huge, loving group of people who want to support you, and that is incredibly uplifting. To know there is an organization with these remarkable patient services and disease info is great. I immediately got a sense from PanCAN that their essence was not about a dour, clinical look at the disease, but instead an optimistic and hopeful one.”

Pancreatic cancer survivor at PanCAN's 5 walk

The Krebs family at PurpleStride.

Joe anchored the morning news on the NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C., for 18 years and was a broadcast journalist for 42 years total before retiring. He gets stopped on the street by people passing along good wishes and thanking him for bringing attention to this disease.

“I’m always surprised (but shouldn’t be) by the number of people who know of someone who has had pancreatic cancer,” he said.

In fact, the first person Joe knew to have been affected by pancreatic cancer was his mother-in-law, who died just 30 days after her diagnosis in 2003.

Today, between scans and treatments, Joe makes sure to take that ever-important advice he mentioned in the PurpleStride video: live in the now, do what you want now and what you love now, because that’s all we have.

Pancreatic cancer survivor and wife in Machu Picchu

Joe and Mary Lynne Krebs in May 2019 at Machu Picchu, Peru.

Six months after his Whipple procedure was a trip to Austria and Germany. Last year he and his wife traveled to Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands.

He also makes time for integrated and complementary medicine, including acupuncture, reiki (energy healing) and meditation.

“I think it’s important for people to hear from those who are going through this to see what the journey is like. You CAN continue living a good life after diagnosis.”

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