Disease Management
May 29, 2024 • 7 Min

Roberta Luna Gets Real about Pancreatic Cancer

Roberta and Vic Luna podcasting

When it comes to talking about the third deadliest cancer out there, Roberta Luna wants to get as real as possible.

No stranger to the pain, heartbreak, and struggle of pancreatic cancer, Roberta lost her father, grandmother, and uncle to the disease before she was diagnosed. When a tumor was found on Roberta’s pancreas in 2002, she was disappointed that the odds of survival and the treatment options had not improved over the years. She underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatments, a drug trial, and watched her mother battle a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor. With lots of patience, Roberta is living proof that survivability is a real thing.

For reasons unknown to her or her medical team, Roberta’s tumor became dormant in December 2018. Since then, she has been living with pancreatic cancer as a long-term survivor and using her intimate knowledge of the disease to support and advocate for others who come after her.

As an active volunteer with the Orange County Affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN), Roberta has served as a Mission Chair, a member of the Survivor Council, and a member of the Survivor and Caregiver Network. She and her husband Vic have co-chaired the PurpleStride Orange County 5K walk. Together they have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for pancreatic cancer research and programs. In a new turn, Roberta has stepped behind the microphone for a pancreatic cancer podcast that is center stage in her life right now.

Getting on the Air

Roberta is the executive producer and host of “Living Hope: Your Journey with Pancreatic Cancer,” a weekly half-hour podcast on OC Talk Radio. The podcast is dedicated to sharing real-life stories about those affected by pancreatic cancer and how they face the disease.

At the start, Roberta didn’t know what a podcast was. She had never even listened to one. When Dawn Kamber, News Director at KSBR, a radio station run by students at Saddleback College and California State University, Northridge, invited her to talk about pancreatic cancer on her show in 2009, Roberta jumped at the chance. She recalls Dawn asking if she had enough material to talk for half an hour, to which she replied, “I only get half an hour?”

Each year, Dawn invited Roberta back to KSBR for updates on her progress and the events she co-chaired with Vic. In 2021 Dawn moved to OC Talk Radio and, speaking about Roberta’s long-term advocacy and inspirational story, persuaded the station manager to bring her on the air again. After the interview, the station manager proposed a podcast for nonprofit stories, emphasizing its accessibility to their listeners.

Roberta was excited about the idea. A podcast would be an excellent way to advocate, raise awareness, and reach a larger pancreatic cancer community. After exploring some options, she and Vic decided to fund it themselves. After hosting just one episode of Living Hope, Roberta discovered how much she enjoyed it and was hooked. The rest is living history.

Honesty, Reality, Transparency . . . and Levity

Roberta is honest, upfront, and transparent in her podcast because authenticity is key to connecting with her audience and fostering a sense of trust. Adding levity and laughter within the Living Hope podcast is also essential, as it brings a sense of balance to the heavy and difficult topics they discuss.

“Humor can be a powerful tool for coping and healing, and it helps make the content more relatable and engaging,” she explains. “By framing the content this way, I hope to create a space where listeners feel understood, supported, and inspired, even in the face of challenging circumstances. I want to provide a balanced perspective that acknowledges the difficulties while also celebrating the moments of joy and strength that we all experience.”

Initially, the podcast focused on sharing personal stories and experiences related to pancreatic cancer. Over time, the scope broadened to include more research, treatment advancements, and interviews with medical professionals. She and Vic have covered topics such as what to do when your loved one dies, getting your affairs in order, and exploring alternative treatments.

Maintaining a pipeline of content and new topics involves staying deeply engaged with the pancreatic cancer community and keeping up with the latest research, treatments, and personal stories. She regularly connects with survivors, caregivers, medical professionals, and advocacy groups to ensure a diverse range of perspectives and experiences. Listening to their stories and concerns provides a wealth of topics and perspectives to explore.

Roberta regularly partners with advocacy organizations, with episodes featuring the Hirshberg Foundation, PanCAN, the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition, and Christina Parrish and the Purple Iris Foundation. Since September 2023, Let’s Win has provided a monthly guest for Living Hope, bringing a wealth of information and resources to ever-expanding audiences.

There is never a shortage of things to talk about when it comes to pancreatic cancer because the field is constantly evolving. New research findings, emerging treatments, and personal journeys provide a continuous stream of content. Additionally, addressing the emotional and psychological aspects of living with the disease, as well as sharing stories of resilience and hope, ensures that the podcast remains relevant and engaging for Roberta’s audience.

Roberta envisions more audience engagement for the Living Hope podcast, including listener call-ins during live episodes. She also wants to make it available on all major podcast directories so that a wider audience can tune in and benefit from the content.

Stories to Remember

Roberta can highlight some particularly memorable shows. There was one young man, Trent, whose mother was pregnant when his dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Now in high school, he never had the chance to get to know his dad because he died shortly after his birth. Trent started going to Washington, D.C., at age five to share his story and advocate for more funding so no other child would lose a parent to pancreatic cancer.

There’s the couple Lee and Dwaine, who discovered on their first date that they both lost their first spouses to pancreatic cancer. There’s also JB, who still advocates on behalf of his best friend Tyler, who he lost in 2012 at the age of 30.

But there is one guest story that is particularly personal to Roberta. Although she never had the chance to meet a man named John before he passed away, she formed a friendship with his family through their volunteer work together. Roberta learned through her podcast that John had participated in a clinical trial for the same oral chemotherapy that she had successfully used. She says, “It was emotional for me to learn this because I knew firsthand how difficult this drug could be. I felt immense gratitude for those willing to undergo such challenging treatments so that others like me could benefit.”

Roberta Offline

Roberta had no idea how much time would go into the preparation and wrap-up when she first started the podcast. Producing, facilitating, and hosting Living Hope can be a full-time job. Outside of the podcast and their volunteering efforts, she and Vic spend many hours together, cherishing every moment, even when it involves simple tasks around the house.

They also love spending time with their sons, family, and friends. Every April, their group of friends celebrates life by “taking a leap of faith” together—skydiving from an airplane at 13,000 feet, bringing new meaning to the term “on the air” to Roberta.

More recently, Vic sold his business and retired. Now they are looking forward to some long-awaited travels.

The Power of Sharing Stories

Roberta often shares a favorite quote with others: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Through the podcast and her advocacy efforts, Roberta discovered her “why.”  A deep passion and commitment to making a difference in the pancreatic cancer community is what drives her. Her experiences have taught her about resilience, hope, and the power of sharing stories. Through the podcast, she provides a platform for voices that need to be heard, offers support and resources to those affected by pancreatic cancer, and raises awareness about this challenging disease.

She wants people to know that this journey has been as much about personal growth as it has about helping others. The support and stories she has encountered along the way have been incredibly inspiring and have fueled her passion to continue this fight. Roberta hopes that her efforts will contribute to a world where pancreatic cancer is better understood, more effectively treated, and eventually, a thing of the past.