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Jill Pechacek and her three children

Jill Pechacek: Cancer Assassin

When one of Denver's top doctors was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2014, she dedicated her life to survival and to encouraging others to spread good will.

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In 2006, Dr. Jill Pechacek was named one of 5280’s top family physicians. She was thrilled and proudly displayed the award on the walls of her office and added the honor to her resume. What Pechacek couldn’t have known was that eight years later she would be fighting for her life. In September 2014, the single mom of three children, Hawk, Brooks, and Hope (now 15, 13, and 11), was diagnosed with Stage Four pancreatic cancer.

By the time it was detected, the disease had already spread to her liver. It wasn’t the first time Pechacek had faced down a grim diagnosis: Shortly before graduating from medical school, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer—but this was different. Pancreatic cancer is largely considered incurable and, according to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for Stage Four hovers around one percent.

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Despite a prognosis of six months to live, Pechacek was determined to beat the odds. She simultaneously began chemotherapy and traveling the country looking for the very best treatment plan. “I just need 10,” she would tell the doctors. “Ten years to see all my children graduate from high school.” Most of the MDs avoided her gaze. She kept searching, until she found Dr. Daniel Von Hoff, M.D., F.A.C.P. at the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix and the HonorHealth Research Institute in Scottsdale. Hoff, a pioneer in targeted cancer therapies, looked Pechacek in the eye and said “Why stop at 10, Jill?”

In her three years fighting the disease, Pechacek has undergone chemotherapy nearly every week and has had her pancreas and two-thirds of her liver removed. She has also had to stop practicing medicine. And yet, she remains relentlessly positive. In 2014, Pechacek launched the 29:11 Challenge, encouraging others to do 29 acts of kindness in 11 days. The movement was inspired by the Old Testament scripture verse, Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” To put it more simply, Pechacek wanted to pay forward the outpouring of love and support her family has received.

This coming weekend Pechacek will, for the fourth time, lead a team at the Lustgarten Foundation’s Denver Walk for Pancreatic Cancer Research around Sloan’s Lake. Her co-captain is Dan Hersh, a dear friend and fellow “cancer assassin”—the two met last fall through their joint battle against their Stage Four diagnoses. The team’s name, God’s Got This, refers to a saying Pechacek often repeats to her children. The team goal is to raise more than $20,000 for pancreatic cancer research. Join the fight, or donate here. One hundred percent of donations to the Lustgarten Foundation goes directly to pancreatic cancer research.

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