Springfield police officer Robert Conrad is a loyal Ducks fan. Recently, he had the opportunity to tour the home of Oregon football as one of several cancer survivors being honored during the 2019 Fight Like a Duck campaign.

“I never thought I’d be here as part of a group of cancer survivors,” Robert said, as he stood in the Marcus Mariota Sports Performance Center in August. “I’m glad to be part of this group. It’s a testament to the work that Willamette Valley Cancer Institute has done and continues to do.”

An unexpected diagnosis

Robert’s life changed in 2017 when he was diagnosed with Stage II pancreatic cancer. He received 10 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by surgery.

“When they got in there, they realized the tumor had wrapped around the main artery to the liver and they said, ‘We’re not touching that.’ So, basically, they just sewed me right back up.”

Devastated, Robert resumed chemotherapy treatment and also received 30 radiation treatments in an attempt to shrink his tumor. Throughout his many months of treatment, he continued to work.

“I think working helped because it made me think about something other than the cancer,” Robert says. “I had a job to do; I had to get out there and provide a service, and it took my mind off of what I was dealing with.”

In June 2018, Robert underwent a second surgery and received incredible news.

“When they opened me back up, they couldn’t find any cancer. It was all gone. As far as the doctors were concerned, it was one of the most miraculous cases they’d seen. The chemotherapy and radiation therapy alone had destroyed the tumor.”

Spreading a message of hope

Robert shared his story with participants of this year’s American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life, encouraging other survivors to be strong and to never give up hope. He told the crowd, “Don’t stop believing in a cure for cancer.”

He’s thankful for the strides being made in cancer research, including targeted therapies and immunotherapy, which are making a significant difference in the lives of patients.

“Over the last decade, through clinical research and through patient participation in clinical trials, we’ve made tremendous strides,” says Willamette Valley Cancer Institute medical oncologist Christopher Yasenchak. “With these therapies, we’re not only seeing significant improvement in activity, but also much more favorable side effect profiles, higher cure rates, longer durations of remission and most important—significant improvement in quality of life for our patients.”

On November 30, when the Oregon Ducks face the Oregon State Beavers at Autzen Stadium in the last home game of the 2019 football season, Robert will be honored on the field as the Fight Like a Duck Hero of the Game. He is one of 11 survivors being honored this year through a continuing partnership between Willamette Valley Cancer Institute and Oregon Athletics.

“I have been in the stadium and watched all the people before me who were honored for their survivorship and it meant a lot, especially after I had just been diagnosed,” Robert says. “I went through some hard times, and it was nice to know that there were other people out there who had experienced the same thing and had come through it. Hopefully, my story can spread that message to somebody, that they can get through it, too.”

Local cancer patients are also being honored at “pink” games during Oregon’s volleyball, women’s basketball and softball seasons, in addition to football.

Celebrating our patients

Throughout the Fight Like a Duck campaign, WVCI is sharing patients’ inspiring stories on its social media channels and hosting fun activities at its Eugene clinic, including giveaways and visits by the Oregon Duck mascot.

If you are a local cancer patient and would like to share your story and participate in the Fight Like a Duck campaign, simply fill out the survey at fightlikeaduck.com and upload a photo of yourself in your Duck gear. Go Ducks!