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Opinion

Sally Ride could conquer space, but not pancreatic cancer

Astronaut Sally Ride, a specialist on shuttle mission

Astronaut Sally Ride, a specialist on shuttle mission STS-7, monitors control panels from the pilot's chair on the shuttle Columbia's flight deck. Ride became America's first woman in space 20 years ago when Columbia launched. (June 18, 1983) Credit: AP

Thirty years ago it seemed Sally Ride could overcome any obstacle. As the first U.S. woman to ride into space, she defied the barriers of gender and gravity. But she couldn’t overcome a banal one that kills close to 40,000 Americans every year: pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer, yet it’s one that continues to have a consistently poor prognosis, even when caught early. This is the same type of cancer that took Steve Jobs, Patrick Swayze, Donna Reed and Luciano Pavarotti — two of the four about a year after the diagnosis, Reed within three months. Ride survived 17 months after her diagnosis. She died Monday at age 61.

Why hasn’t medical research made as much progress with this disease as it has with many other? Some cancers get infinite media attention and have multiple organizations fundraising and educating for the cause and the cure. But for pancreatic cancer and a some others, there seems to be little passion until it becomes part of your personal life.

Ride was a pioneer among women and her legacy won’t be forgotten. And if her death brings a renewed focus on curing this cancer, she will have conquered another frontier.

Pictured above: Astronaut Sally Ride, a specialist on shuttle mission STS-7, monitors control panels from the pilot's chair on the shuttle Columbia flight deck.

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