• Tumor found by chance
• Need for help during treatment led me to move to my son’s house
• My new doctor offered a clinical trial
I was picking up my grandkids to bring them to school when I was in an accident. I injured my back, so the tests at the Banner Hospital emergency room included a CT scan. The tumor showed up on the scan. I had no symptoms prior to my accident, so the diagnosis came as a complete surprise.
I had more scans and blood tests during my hospital stay and was assigned an oncologist at Banner through the University of Arizona. The oncologist recommended the standard treatment—chemotherapy with gemcitabine. I never asked about the stage of my cancer.
Treatment Protocol Includes a Clinical Trial
Since I had helped my ex-husband with his cancer treatments, I knew I would need help as I underwent treatments. I could not drive as a result of the car accident because I was wearing a back brace. So I decided to move to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where my son lived. He and my daughter-in-law said they would take me to chemo and help me through the process. Once I arrived in Grand Rapids, I saw an oncologist at the Lacks Cancer Center there and he offered the same treatment as the oncologist in Arizona.
My daughter-in-law suggested I go to the Rogel Cancer Center at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. She made all the arrangements for me to be seen there. Dr. Mark Zalupski, the oncologist I met with, offered me the gemcitabine treatment as well as a clinical trial he was working on. I opted for the clinical trial, thinking that if it didn’t help me, it might potentially help someone else.
The trial consisted of gemcitabine and radiation treatments, plus the trial drug, called AZD1775. I had 29 back-to-back radiation treatments, followed by almost four months of chemotherapy. The chemotherapy was given intravenously once a week for 30 minutes. A few days after each chemo I was given a pill, which turned out to be the clinical trial drug, although I did not know what it was. The side effects were some nausea and general tiredness. I began all treatments in May of 2015 and completed my chemo in late fall 2015. I continued working as a faculty member and supervisor in the Alliance for Catholic Education Master of Education program for the University of Notre Dame during my chemo treatments.
Time for Surgery
In November 2015, Dr. Zalupski called to tell me he thought my tumor had shrunk enough to try to have it surgically removed. I had a distal pancreatectomy on February 7, 2016, with Dr. Hari Nathan. I am cancer free. I have a CT scan every six months as well as a CA 19-9 blood test.
I am now 72 years young and have returned to my home state of Arizona where I live with my dog Rosco. I am still working with Dr. Zalupski, but I recently established a professional relationship with Dr. Christopher Chen, an oncologist in Tucson. My son has relocated and no longer lives in Michigan. But it was a godsend that he lived there when I had cancer, otherwise I may not have lived to see 72 years!
I hope the details of my journey can help someone else.
After six years and two bouts with pancreatic cancer, Rachel passed away. As an educator, she wanted people to be more aware of pancreatic cancer, and she knew the value of a clinical trial, to help others if not herself. We offer our deepest sympathy to her family.
Watch Rachel tell her story in the video “You Can Win This Fight.”