What came next was a two-month search for a diagnosis. There was a CT scan, an MRI and other tests. Clarity didn’t arrive until early April, when a surgeon at the IU Simon Cancer Center emerged early from a procedure to remove part of Bigelow’s pancreas: A mass found earlier turned out to be cancer. It had also spread to Bigelow’s liver.
Over the next 13 months, Bigelow endured chemotherapy, which beat back the disease for a time. Yet in March 2009, Bigelow died after the family returned home early from its annual spring break trip to Florida. He was only 41, an age when only three in 100,000 men his age are diagnosed with the disease.
Bigelow’s family and friends banded together to ensure other families don’t endure the same plight. Since 2009, they’ve hosted the Bigelow Open golf tournament each July, an event that so far has raised more than $580,000 to support pancreatic cancer research at IU School of Medicine.
Their generosity is essential to bolstering an area of research with limited funding. Funding from the National Institutes of Health simply isn’t enough to support the many promising research ideas that should be explored. And when the NIH earmarks money for research, pancreatic cancer tends to receive only a fraction of the support. Since 2011, the disease has received only 20 percent of the amount allocated for breast cancer research.
Money raised from the Bigelow Open has been pivotal in sustaining the work of C. Max Schmidt, MD, PhD, a surgeon and researcher at IU School of Medicine who studies pancreatic cysts, which can be precursors to cancer.
“If you can promote the early detection side of it, that would go a long way,” said Mike Bigelow’s wife, Kris. “Too often when they diagnose you, it’s too late.”