Survivor Stories
January 24, 2024 • 4 Min

Don’t Give Up

Joe Pearson

Joe Pearson and his family
  • Stomach and back pain led to diagnosis
  • Chemotherapy and Whipple surgery
  • Living an active life

Last October I passed the one-year anniversary of my pancreatic cancer diagnosis. 

It was June 2022; I was experiencing stomach and back pain and the pain persisted every time I would eat any type of food. At first, I didn’t think anything of it but the pain continued daily. My doctor ordered gastrointestinal testing, including a CT scan, biopsy, and CA 19-9 test. In October 2022 we discovered that I had pancreatic cancer.

The CA 19-9 is a tumor marker that shows growth and size of the tumor, and the standard is 37 or below. On November 14th the test revealed that my marker was at 787. I was 67 years old at the time. My 68th birthday was December 10th and I had no idea if I would live to see my next birthday.

Chemotherapy Plus Whipple Procedure

I began treatment with Dr. Edward Kim at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center in Sacramento, California on December 2nd, 2022. He prescribed 10 chemotherapy cycles of oxaliplatin administered over two hours through an IV. I was also given irinotecan administered over 90 minutes through an IV as well. A disposable elastomeric pump was attached to my chest port to administer fluorouracil over a 46- hour period while at home; I then returned to the clinic to have the pump disconnected. Twenty-four hours after being disconnected, I had to self-inject UDENYCA® into my abdomen in order to prevent any type of infection and because chemotherapy made my white blood cell count low. I would do this bi-weekly on Fridays until the last one in April 2023. By this time my CA 19-9 level was reduced from 787 to 75. 

Some of the side effects were not too bad. I had (and continue to have) neuropathy in my hands and feet and my fingernails and toenails turned dark; I also had constipation. One other interesting side effect is that my tongue turned dark brown, which affected my taste. I didn’t expect that to happen! My tongue and nails have all returned to their normal color and I can taste.

My doctors originally thought I had stage IV cancer, but they found that it was stage III—locally advanced. My body responded very well to the chemotherapy with few side effects and my tumor was reduced to less than .2 centimeters. Rather than going through radiation treatments, Dr. Kim recommended the Whipple surgery. However, the remaining tumor was location near a blood vessel on the top of the pancreas, making the surgery risky. The surgical team at UC Davis Sacramento was very apprehensive about doing the surgery so Dr. Kim recommended a second opinion. We met with Dr. Carlos Corvera of UCSF Health (San Francisco), a gastrointestinal cancer surgeon who specializes in conducting the Whipple surgery. He agreed to do the surgery.

On May 22nd I had surgery that lasted 10 hours. During the operation the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine, the gallbladder, and the bile duct were removed. I remained in the hospital for the next 12 days to ensure that the procedure had gone well and there were no complications. On the third day after the surgery Dr. Corvera came to check on me and he told me that they got all of the remaining cancer. By July 20th I was able to travel to West Virginia and attend my 50th high school reunion; in September I was able to play golf.


Over a year onward, I am still cancer-free and doing well. Throughout my life I took good care of myself, with a good diet and exercise. Plus, my body had not been compromised with any other problems like smoking, asthma, diabetes, heart problems, illegal drug use, or severe injuries and I think all this contributed to my recovery. I am now 69 years old and I’m able to play golf, travel, exercise, and live my life as I did before.

If I could say this to others, I would tell people that when you feel sick don’t put off going to the doctor, and get second opinions. For those who are beginning their journey with pancreatic cancer, I say this, “Don’t give up. With all of the advances in modern medicine, cancer can (and will) be defeated.”