Four summers ago, Keesha Sharp found out that her mother had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer — the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in America. Sadly, her mom died this August.
However, Sharp, who starred as Monica on this hit sitcom “Girlfriends,” and has more recently been seen on “Empire” and “The Good Fight,” is turning her grief into action. She has teamed up with the Pancreatic Cancer Collective, a joint initiative of Stand Up To Cancer and the Lustgarten Foundation to help promote pancreatic cancer clinical trials.
“My mom eventually tried them toward the end. She was so sick, and yet, she felt like it was working,” Sharp tells Variety. “She was given one to three more months to live, but it was still too late for her.”
“The experience is still very raw for me; I want to call my mom every day,” she continues. “But I think that helps me, because it gives me hope. It gives me something to fight for.”
The Pancreatic Cancer Collective debuted a PSA on Nov. 19 to close out Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, following the launch of Stand Up To Cancer’s health equity initiative inviting patients from diverse races and ethnicities to benefit equally from treatments available through clinical trials.
Sharp adds that it’s personally important for her campaign to reach the Black community, because Black Americans have a 20% higher incidence rate than any other group.
To recharge from a grueling year, Sharp acted in a Christmas comedy movie that is set to debut in December. Looking to the future, she hopes to continue using her platform to share resources and give hope to pancreatic cancer patients, survivors and their loved ones. “I just want to save other mothers and fathers and sisters, brothers and children out there,” she says.
Through the Pancreatic Cancer Collective, Stand Up To Cancer and the Lustgarten Foundation have jointly funded more than 400 researchers studying pancreatic cancer at roughly 70 institutions in the U.S. and the U.K., working to improve diagnosis of the disease and find new treatments.