I Have Pancreatic Cancer; It Does Not Have Me

Pancreatic Cancer Survivor Bill Shrieves

•    A Whipple procedure, then a clinical trial.
•    Cancer spread discovered before the trial starts.
•    A new plan—treatment with FOLFIRINOX
•    Molecular profiling of the tumor shows which drugs work best

One day in November 2010 I noticed that my urine was dark brown.

After this continued for a few days I went to my primary care doctor, who ordered a blood test and urinalysis. The next day I had a CT scan, which showed a tumor on my pancreas. My CA 19-9 was only 39, which is barely out of the normal range. I was officially diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on November 19, 2010 at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

A Whipple procedure was completed on November 24, 2010 by Dr. H. Richard Alexander at UMMC in Baltimore, Maryland. At that time my cancer was staged as IIB. I recovered well from the surgery and signed up for a clinical trial combining gemcitabine and radiation.

A Scan Before the Trial Changes the Plan

On January 4, 2011, I had a CT scan to prepare for the clinical trial. The CT scan showed spots on my liver, making my cancer stage IV. I was no longer eligible for the clinical trial.

My oncologist, Dr. Naomi Horiba, at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, started me on FOLFIRINOX, a relatively new drug combination for pancreatic cancer. I had 11 rounds of FOLFIRINOX over a six-month period. After five treatments, all but one of the spots were gone from my liver. After six months all the spots were gone.

During treatment I had molecular profiling done on my tumor by Caris Life Sciences. It showed that I received clinical benefit from fluorourcil and oxaliplatin but the irinotecan provided no clinical benefit.

Support during Treatment; Life after Treatment

I have been free of cancer for over five years.

Getting a diagnosis of metastatic pancreatic cancer can certainly change your life. Four things have gotten me through this battle. They are faith in God; support from my wife Jean, our family and friends; a sense of humor; and a positive attitude. My grandson Sean recently ran in a 5K event and raised over $600. The T-shirt that he wore during the event read “My Grandpa’s Battle is My Battle, Supporting Him Until He Wins.”

Since I won my fight against pancreatic cancer, we set up a nonprofit, the Mid-Shore Pancreatic Cancer Foundation, Inc., to fight pancreatic cancer. Our mission is to provide hope and support for people fighting pancreatic cancer in our community. We are working toward a day when pancreatic cancer will move from being a deadly disease to being a chronic disease.

Finally, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of a positive attitude. I have a friend who has MS. She says she has MS, but MS doesn’t have her. I feel the same way. I have pancreatic cancer, but it doesn’t have me.