Frakes, Shimerman & Swink Talk Pancreatic Cancer, PanCAN & Hope: Part 2

Jonathan Frakes

Getty Jonathan Frakes smiles as he speaks to fans at a Star Trek event.

In part one of Heavy’s exclusive conversation with “Star Trek” stars Kitty Swink, Armin Shimerman and Jonathan Frakes, they discussed their personal pancreatic cancer stories and their introductions to PanCAN, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” guest star Swink revealed that she had already beaten breast cancer when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004. She got lucky and lived to tell the tale, with her husband Shimerman, who starred as Quark on “DS9,” by her side every step of the way. Swink is at a miraculous 18 years and counting cancer-free.

Daniel Frakes, the brother of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” actor and frequent “Trek” director Jonathan Frakes, wasn’t as fortunate. He succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 1997, Frakes said, mere months after his diagnosis. Swink and Shimerman eventually found their way to PanCAN, and they recruited Frakes to the cause.


PanCAN Is There to Help

Armin Shimerman, Kitty Swink, and Jonathan Frakes

PanCANArmin Shimerman, Kitty Swink, and Jonathan Frakes team up to support PanCAN.

The three actors joined forces for a heartfelt conversation – laced with hope – to share their pancreatic cancer stories with Heavy on Star Trek and shine a light on PanCAN, which will hold its annual national awareness/fundraising PurpleStride event on April 30. PurpleStride, per its mission statement, aims to bring broader awareness to pancreatic cancer, raise funds to treat it and help PacCAN support patients, their families and doctors.


‘Nothing. Nothing Is Incurable.’

Below is part two of our exclusive interview with Kitty Swink, Jonathan Frakes and Armin Shimerman: 

Let’s talk about the PurpleStride event coming up. Tell me a little bit about what that is and how people can get involved.

Jonathan Frakes: It’s 70,000 people who are doing it now.

Armin Shimerman: In 60 different locations around the country. It’s a huge national event. They hope to raise $16.5 million because of this event, as more and more people find out about it. It’s not just about raising money. It really is about getting the word out so that people have help, that they know about it. We didn’t know about any support organizations. We want people to know about this so that if they have, unfortunately, the same diagnosis our families have gone through, we want them to be able to go somewhere and not thrash around in the dark as we had to do.

Frakes: That’s what’s happening, but with the awareness that Kitty has led us all into, a lot of people are responding with just what Armin mentioned, which is “Ah!” There’s something they can grab onto, a ring they can hold onto and make this a more hopeful ride.

Frakes: Most people think pancreatic cancer is a death sentence. It’s not good, there’s no doubt about it. It’s not good. As Jonathan said, it’s 11% survival, but that’s three times, almost four times as much as when Daniel died, and certainly more than twice as much as Kitty when she got sick. You hear so much about people dying of pancreatic cancer. This is an opportunity for people to go, “No! Wait… there is hope.” There is a possibility, but you need to know that, which will make your going through the procedures a little bit easier, I think.

Kitty Swink: There is a woman in Orange County, California, who I met through Charlotte (Rae, the late star of “The Facts of Life” and a dear friend of the Shimermans) during the PurpleStride in Orange County years ago. Her name is Roberta Luna. She’s been living with this inoperable pancreatic cancer for longer than I have survived. She is my hero. Roberta is a hero and she and her husband are so generous to the community, it’s extraordinary. Part of that thing I wanted to say is that Armin talked to the woman while I had talked to her partner a few days before that and said, “She should talk to Armin.” On top of that, he had symptoms for a really long time and kept going. Nobody found it. Nobody found it because they didn’t know what to look for.

Shimerman: Doctors don’t know what to look for sometimes.

Swink: Part of it is telling patients and families what they need, and helping them, but also educating doctors on what they need to know. If you’re not in a big city where there’s a center of excellence for pancreatic cancer, you have a very bad chance of getting diagnosed in time.

If people are unable to do the event itself, they can still donate to the cause, or to one of the teams, right?

Frakes: That’s www.purplestride.org. They can get right in there. Hopefully, they’ll find us, but there are lots of lots of celebrity teams. Mindy Kaling is the host of PurpleStride this year, our ambassador. Patrick Swayze’s wife, Lisa, has a team. Rosario Dawson has a team. Alex Trebek’s daughter has a team.

Swink: Melissa Gilbert, who came to PurpleStride through Armin and me, has a team, too.

How supportive has the “Star Trek” community been?

Frakes: The fans have been the ones who have really stepped up.

Shimerman: Certainly, the people from “Star Trek,” the actors and behind the camera people, have tweeted about it or done social media about it. But, like Jonathan said, it’s really the fans. We want to thank the people who’ve heard our message and out of the graciousness of their hearts contributed, because they really are contributing to fighting this cancer. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had tricorders and you could just eradicate any disease? But we can’t. In order to get to tricorders, we need to collect money, educate doctors, find cures, and make discoveries.

Swink: One thing that “Star Trek” fans might want to know, or people who are “Buffy” fans… If you join our team as a sub-team, the top two sub-teams who raise a lot of money, we’re going to do a Zoom with them for a half-hour, the three of us. And we have a really good time. We laugh a lot. It’s really fun.

Jonathan, there was a line in “Fly Me to the Moon,” one of the “Picard” episodes you recently directed: “Nothing. Nothing is incurable.” When you shot that scene, was it just another bit of dialogue in the show? Or did it carry extra meaning and weight?

Frakes: Hearing that line would never be just another line, I think, to any of us. It’s obviously prescient to this conversation.

Kitty, since we started with you, let’s please end with you. What final thoughts would you like to share about pancreatic cancer and PanCAN?

Swink: Please reach out, if you or anybody you know has pancreatic cancer. It’s so important. PanCAN will contact you back. That’s why they’re there. Frankly, people contact me on Twitter all the time, and I answer them. I answer every single person. I can’t tell you how many people I talk to in a week who have pancreatic cancer. The other thing I would say about pancreatic cancer is if you have it, not only is it not a death sentence, but while you’re alive… live. Be alive when you’re alive. See your friends, your family. Embrace life, because it’s really precious.

Click HERE to support Team Star Trek Against Cancer.

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