Mindy Kaling opens up about the death of her mother from pancreatic cancer

The actress appears in a new PSA for PanCAN, a pancreatic cancer nonprofit.

Mindy Kaling opens up about the death of her mother from pancreatic cancer
November 17, 2020, 8:07 AM

Mindy Kaling is raising awareness about a disease that has had a profound effect on her life: pancreatic cancer.

In a new public service announcement for PanCAN, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting pancreatic cancer, Kaling opened up about the death of her mother, Dr. Swati Chokalingam, from the disease.

Kaling shared in a supplementary interview that her mother, a physician, recognized her symptoms as those of pancreatic cancer before she received a formal diagnosis in 2011. After doctors were able to tell her what was wrong, she "kind of knew what her prognosis was going to be," Kaling added.

"Particularly with pancreatic cancer, there's not a lot of good news, so you're just waiting and waiting for another shoe to drop," Kaling recalled, referring to that time as "hell."

"[My mother] was so strong and our family got a lot of strength from her, but I remember at that time, that really felt like the moment in my life where I had to become a real grown-up and I had to be strong for her," the actress continued. "I wanted to be able to give her hope."

Chokalingam died in January 2012, according to an obituary from that time. Since then, Kaling, 41, has welcomed two children: Katherine, 2, and Spencer, who was born earlier this year. In her interview with PanCAN, the former "Mindy Project" star said that motherhood has compounded the loss.

"The saddest part is knowing that my kids will never meet her," she said. "I already see so many of her personality traits in my daughter so that's something that is hard for me."

Now, Kaling wants to support other families dealing with pancreatic cancer and to help those who have been diagnosed. Her mother, she said, would be "so proud" of her work with PanCAN.

"I think it would make her so happy to know that I was trying to do something to help," she said. "The greatest trial of my family's lives was her cancer diagnosis and being able to relate to other families and knowing what they've been through is kind of my greatest gift in helping the fight against it."

Julie Fleshman, PanCAN's president and chief executive officer, reiterated that "pancreatic cancer patients can't afford to wait." An estimated 57,000 cases of pancreatic cancer are expected to be diagnosed in the United States this year, according to PanCAN. For people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the survival rate beyond five years is only 10%, according to the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Cancer Institute. "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg both died of pancreatic cancer in 2020.

"We are so grateful to Mindy for her ongoing generosity and support and her vulnerability in sharing her story with us this November [Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month]," Fleshman said. "She'll undoubtedly bring more urgency and attention to this deadly disease that is in critical need of additional research and funding."