I Am Alive and Grateful
- Chemotherapy to shrink my tumor
- CyberKnife radiation to kill cancer
- More chemotherapy to continue the attack
- Tumor remains but appears to be stable
In December of 2012 I was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer.
The tumor sat blocking the bile duct, wrapped around veins, and lying against my aorta. I went to UPMC Cancer Center, where I met Dr. Nathan Bahary, my oncologist (now with Allegheny Health Network). He and Dr. Herbert Zeh III (now at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas), my surgeon, had a plan ready to go. I was to do chemotherapy and then about four months into treatment I would have CyberKnife radiation. The hope was that the chemo and radiation would shrink the tumor enough so that Dr. Zeh could get in there to perform a robotic Whipple procedure and remove the tumor.
Chemotherapy, Then CyberKnife Radiation
The first three months or so of chemo was with 5-FU. I wore a pump home and got the chemo over a three-day stretch, every other week for a bit over three months as I remember it. At the end of each three-day session the nurse came to my house to disconnect me from the chemo pump. The pump is small so I was able to remain mobile even though I was hooked up.
Unfortunately, the chemo did not pack the punch that the doctors were hoping for and there was just minimal shrinking of the tumor. At about this time they started CyberKnife radiation treatment. Little gold beads are inserted right into the tumor to act as a target for the radiation beam. This way the radiation beam is focused only on the tumor.
During the actual treatments I was strapped into an air bed. The big radiation machine circled all the way around me, shooting at the beads in the tumor at designated angles. This procedure was done every other day over a six-day period, and each session lasted around 30 minutes.
It takes some time before you actually know the results of this treatment, as your insides swell up a bit. Other than that the side effects from this CyberKnife radiation were minimal.
After I finished the radiation treatments it was back to the chemo. This time I was put on Gemzar and Abraxane for the remainder of the year. I had lots of ups and downs because of the side effects of the drugs. But through it all though the docs remained hopeful. Finally, after a year the doctors stopped the chemo.
Doing Well Five Years On
Unfortunately, the tumor never did shrink enough to be removed. The good news is that I am still here. After five years the tumor remains but has not grown or spread. The docs hope they killed it but there is no way to tell so they still keep an eye on me.
The treatment has left me with a lot of collateral damage to my body. I have diabetes now, and the stent in my bile duct has to be cleaned out and replaced at least once a year. I have digestive issues and neuropathy and at times fight fatigue.
I love it. I say that in all seriousness. I am alive and was able to see my fourth grandchild born. This year my wife and I will celebrate 40 years of marriage. These doctors are doing the work of God and I am more grateful than words can say. They are learning more and more every day so this really is a time of hope.
Researchers are testing different combinations of radiation and chemotherapy. Read the Radiation topic in Research to learn more.