Beaming purple

By Contributing Writer

By Tim Shaunnessey, Contributing Writer

If the Chicago skyline suddenly looks purple, it’s because 15 of the city’s most prominent buildings, including the Willis Tower, Wrigley Building and Goodman Theatre, have agreed to adopt the color in support of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.

The month-long color change was endorsed in early November by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who said in a written statement released on Nov. 4 that it “will serve to raise public awareness of this very serious disease as we work to find a cure.”

While the month has been nationally dedicated to pancreatic cancer, this will be the second year that the city has endorsed the cause. The transformation of the skyline’s hue is actually the third one in a row for the city. Buildings donned pink in October in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and blue in September to raise awareness surrounding prostate cancer.

The city’s spectrum shift to purple is the result of the efforts of Jill Peet Saponaro, a Chicago native who lost her husband to pancreatic cancer two years ago. The disease is commonly known to affect both men and women.

“My husband died from pancreatic cancer a couple of years ago, and it was horrible,” Saponaro said. “I live in the city, and I noticed that all of the buildings were pink in October for breast cancer. I assumed [the lights] would all be purple in November for pancreatic cancer, but they weren’t.”

In 2009, she began making efforts to convince downtown buildings to adopt the lighting that would promote awareness of pancreatic cancer in November.

“I started making calls [and] sending emails, and nobody would listen to me,” she said. “They wouldn’t, they couldn’t, it wasn’t in the budget, there are too many causes out there.”

With no luck, Saponaro continued into 2010. She was assisted by a friend who put her in contact with US Equities—the company that leases the Willis Tower—and Gary Michon, the property manager of Willis Tower. A meeting was arranged and Saponaro convinced Michon to display purple lights on the building, which set a precedent for the 14 other establishments.

“[Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month] is an opportunity to shine a light on a terrible disease, and it’s a cause we’re proud to stand behind,” said Denise Schneider, spokeswoman for the Goodman Theatre.

Saponaro is now involved with the Chicago Division of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. The organization is dedicated to supporting advances in research and treatment of pancreatic cancer, as well as offering support for patients battling the disease.

Saponaro said she hopes the changing of the lights will become an annual component in Chicago.

“The purpose isn’t just to get a purple light up there for memory or recognition,” she said. “Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death. Forty-four thousand people [per] year are diagnosed [with it] and [approximately] 39,000 die every year.”

Currently, a bill is making its way through Congress called the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act. According to Saponaro, the bill has the majority support in the House, and approximately half of the Senate. She added that passing the bill would provide research funding and bring more recognition to an often overlooked disease.

“We’re trying to get people to call their senators and representatives to tell them that it’s important,” Saponaro said. “Tell them to vote on it, so we can get more research, more funding and work toward a cure.”