- Successful surgery
- Pancreatic cancer vaccine and experimental enzyme clinical trials
- Advanced and novel treatment approaches for aggressive pancreatic cancer
- Genetic testing reveals BRCA2 mutation
- The importance of clinical trials
- Recurrences in liver, chest wall, and adrenal gland
That was in March 2013 and I was 64 years old. Shortly after my initial diagnosis I was connected with Dr. Nicholas Nissen, a nationally-recognized pancreatic cancer surgeon from Cedars-Sinai, and someone whom I now call a close friend.
Surgery, Cancer Vaccine, and Genetic Testing
I happened to be among the fortunate few to immediately undergo successful surgery to resect my 6.5cm pancreatic cancer tumor, by removal of the tail of my pancreas (stage IIB at diagnosis). I was again fortunate to be accepted into a phase III national clinical trial at the Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute in Los Angeles, where I received a breakthrough pancreatic cancer vaccine. Foundation genetic testing revealed that I have the BRCA2 mutation.
From the time of surgery until the end of my immunological trial in May 2014, I was in remission. I was feeling great; back to my old self. But that changed when my cancer returned in the liver just a few months later. I became a stage IV pancreatic cancer patient/survivor. And my war with a different kind of enemy was on.
Clinical Trials Important
I can’t stress how important it is to consider clinical trials as part of pancreatic cancer treatment. It’s part of why I’m alive and doing well today, along with Dr. Nissen and my “Dream Team” of specialists at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center who collaboratively have come up with advanced and novel treatment approaches to combat my aggressive pancreatic cancer.
Since 2014, my cancer has returned six times and I have endured five additional medical procedures including four ablation surgeries and two radiation treatment procedures (both internal and external), all accomplished by my “Dream Team,” headed by Dr. Nissen.
Despite my recurrences, today, three years plus in my survivor’s journey, I feel good, positive and hopeful, and I continue to remain strong and relentless in my pursuit to beat the odds and do what I can to support others fighting this disease.
Managing medical bills for treatment can be overwhelming. A strong PPO and Medicare covered the majority of my treatments through Cedars Sinai. The hospital also has a program through which a patient is assigned an advocate to help patients with bills.
I realized early on the importance of a fighting spirit, and I committed myself to joining the bigger fight against pancreatic cancer. I hope that my journey can serve as an example of hope and courage and inspire others to believe they can win their fight, too. Remember to define your own journey and not allow this cancer to define you. Yes, life has a funny way of sneaking up on you when you think everything is good and everything is going right. But when you embrace the enemy, it changes everything.