The second annual Strikeout Cancer youth baseball tournament hit Richardson Field in Rancho Santa Fe Jan. 4-5. The tournament for 12 and under travel baseball teams was organized by Rancho Santa Fe resident and Canyon Crest Academy junior Ozzie Pearlman to raise awareness and funds for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, the organization dedicated to defeating the world’s toughest cancer.
Ozzie’s charity tournament honors the memory of his grandmother Janis “Gammy” Pearlman, who died from pancreatic cancer six years ago.
“She’s very close to my heart and I still do love her a lot,” Ozzie said.
Ozzie said it was amazing to see the tournament grow in its second year, both in the number of teams that played and in the amount of money raised.
“So far we have raised about $8,000 which is almost double what we raised last year,” Ozzie said. “Just to see the kids competing was really fun. When I was their age I loved to play in tournaments for trophies and medals and it was really fun to see all the kids out there enjoying themselves.”
Ozzie was a Rancho Santa Fe Little League all star who went on to play travel ball with the San Diego Crush and Del Mar Powerhouse. He now plays on the CCA Ravens varsity baseball team and is co-president of the Miracle League Club at school—Miracle League provides children with special needs the opportunity to play baseball at San Dieguito Park.
Ozzie has high hopes for his third annual tournament next year.
“I want to expand it to a bigger venue and to get more teams involved,” Ozzie said.
Rancho Santa Fe resident and pancreatic cancer survivor Stu Rickerson lives just down the road from Richardson Field. Rickerson served on the board of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PANCAN) for nine years and just termed out after his third three-year term. He is now involved at the local affiliate in San Diego, is a major gift chair and every year participates in Pancreatic Cancer Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C., working to get more federal funding for research initiatives.
“It’s a really great thing that Ozzie did,” Rickerson said. “Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States and is on track to become the second leading cause in 2020 or soon thereafter unless significant progress is made soon. It demands urgent action to save lives.”
When the organization was founded 20 years ago, federal funding for pancreatic cancer research was $17.5 million a year. In 2017, that number was up to $177 million. While the growth is good, compared to funding levels for less deadly diseases, it is still very low and pancreatic cancer is still the only major cancer that has a single digit five-year survival rate. The five-year survival rate when Rickerson was diagnosed in 2005 was five percent—it is now 9 percent which he attributes to higher research funding and new treatments driven by PANCAN.
“It’s an equal opportunity cancer,” Rickerson said of the disease that effects men and women equally, young and old. Congressman John Lewis and the host of “Jeopardy” Alex Trebek were diagnosed last year and it has taken the lives of local San Diego residents, beloved friends and family members like Ozzie’s Gammy.
More than 56,000 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year and more than 45,000 Americans will die from pancreatic cancer this year.
“It should be a priority,” Rickerson said. “PANCAN has made it a priority to double the survival rates from this disease and with the help, compassion and funding from people like Ozzie this can be something that we look in the rear view mirror and say ‘We changed the world.’”
In 2020, PANCAN is taking on major initiatives such as matched therapies selected through molecular profiling to improve patient outcomes, an adaptive clinical trial designed to accelerate new treatment options and focusing on an early detection research—today there is no established way or test to find pancreatic cancer early and early detection is critical to increasing survival.
Rickerson was fortunate—this Jan. 17 will be the 15th anniversary of his early diagnosis, which he said is a credit to his general practioner Dr. AJ Foster, now at Scripps Coastal Medical Center in Solana Beach who was persistent in ordering tests that led to his diagnosis and eventual surgery even though he had virtually no symptoms.
Back then, Rickerson’s only child was six and was just starting to play baseball on the Rancho Santa Fe fields—she went all the way through the little league program with three years playing at the Richardson Field home of Strikeout Cancer. Rickerson’s daughter is now a junior in college and is playing Division 1 soccer at the school of her dreams and he is thankfully alive to see it.
“It’s just awesome that Ozzie has decided to make something positive out of losing his grandmother. He’s created something positive out of what could have been something that he just didn’t want to talk about,” said Rickerson, who along with PANCAN continues to work to raise awareness and funding to change the course of pancreatic cancer treatment, impact outcomes and save lives. “A meaningful development for pancreatic cancer is within sight, we just have to adjust our telescopes to see it. It’s out there, you can feel the momentum building.”
Learn more at www.pancan.org.