Survivor Stories
June 11, 2024 • 3 Min

A Strong Support System Is Critical

Tony Austinson

Pancreatic Cancer patient Tony Austinson in Sedona, AZ
  • Chemotherapy with FOLFIRINOX
  • Whipple procedure
  • Support group for men

I first realized that something wasn’t right when I found myself losing weight without dieting or exercise. I was also very fatigued.

I went to my doctor, who ordered blood work and a CT scan. And then, on April 19, 2023, I was diagnosed with stage Ib pancreatic adenocarcinoma. I was 53 years old and didn’t expect any of this to happen. But I was lucky—we found it early.

Chemo + Surgery

Within two weeks, I began treatment with Dr. Ben Zhang at Minnesota Oncology in Burnsville, which is close to where I live. I had twelve cycles of FOLFIRINOX chemotherapy followed by a Whipple procedure in November 2023. The main side effects of my treatment were neuropathy along with fatigue. I worked and rested during chemo, then went on long-term disability for the second half of my treatment and the surgery. From day one, I have taken Creon pancreatic enzymes to help with digestion and insulin for type 2 diabetes, which I developed at the same time as my cancer diagnosis.

A Good Path to Health

My cancer diagnosis and journey have brought some positive changes to my life that I also didn’t expect. They made me rethink what is most important. I’ve also been making slow and sustained changes to my diet, a long-term and ongoing process.

I am now more than a year from my initial diagnosis and I am feeling great! I have put on about 20 pounds since my lowest weight in December 2023. During treatment I went on long-term disability, but I am now back at work. Even though I still get tired after a long day, those days are becoming fewer and farther between. I am on a good path to health.

I am slowly getting back into working out by doing yoga and light weights. Mentally, things are still a struggle, but I am actively working with a therapist, which is helping a lot.

My Advice

I’ve been through so much over the past year, but I was lucky and had the right support system to get me through pancreatic cancer treatment. Now, I have advice to pass on to others who are battling this disease. From the moment you are diagnosed, do your best to keep a positive mindset. There will be plenty of days that seem impossible. That is to be expected. Do not keep things bottled up inside or isolate yourself. Let in your significant other, family, and friends who are closest to you—the people you trust and those who have your best interests at heart. Building a strong support system is critical.

Also, assemble the best medical team you can. Do your best to put your trust and faith in them, as they are the experts. But do not hesitate to question things and challenge the medical team on your treatment plan. It is all about teamwork.

Finally, for all the men reading my story, check out the organization Man Up to Cancer.  It is a support group for guys who are going through cancer themselves or caring for someone with cancer. It continues to be a critical part of my mental well-being to have a group of guys who understand my cancer journey. We all have to watch out for each other.

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