Survivor Stories

Pancreatic Cancer

John Cheever

Language: ENG

On December 28, 2009 I received the news that pancreatic cancer (PC) caused the blood clots in my legs. Otherwise, my health was excellent. In fact, my primary doctor, Dr. Ashok Sharma, suspected PC only because I had good physical health. Someone as active as me should not develop blood clots.

 

An operation was scheduled at UCLA. However, pre-op tests revealed the cancer had metastasized to the liver and was deemed inoperable. The tests also discovered a mass in the urinary bladder. The seriousness of the PC precluded the necessity to further explore the bladder mass.

 

The news that the cancer was inoperable left me feeling like a dead man walking.  Everything I knew about PC indicated a quick and unhappy ending. My fears were reinforced upon learning that the average survival period from start of treatment is six months. The one and two year survival rates are 25% and 13% respectively. The five year survival rate four decades ago was 3% and has only improved to 5%. Pancreatic cancer is the only cancer, of 24 major classifications tracked, with a single digit five year survival rate. These odds are not great, but they are only averages. By definition many people beat these averages - might as well be me. Tweaking my diet, maintaining the exercise program and keeping a positive attitude will all contribute to a successful journey.

 

From 1968 to 1997 I was an accounting professor at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. I trained 40 -60 miles a week (reached 100 miles in one week) with the Cal Poly distant runners. I also swam and currently work out at the Claremont Club on the stationary bike and in the weight room. The doctors feel the exercise program has helped me to fight the cancer and to withstand the side effects of the chemo. I encourage everyone to increase their physical wellbeing as no one knows when they will have to draw upon their reserve of good health.

 

Dr. Swarna Chanduri, my primary oncologist, at The Robert and Beverly Lewis Family Cancer Care Center has been great in balancing the dosage of the chemo to fight the cancer, while managing the side effects. Dr, Wong, my secondary oncologist, at UCLA and Dr. Chanduri confer with each other to discuss the present and future treatments. Because relatively few survivors make it this far knowledge for long term treatment is weak. Dr. Chanduri's willingness to confer with an outside resource gives me peace of mind.

 

The present therapy of Gemzar and Xeloda has shrunk the tumor 80% and the liver lesions have all but disappeared. The normal range for the PC marker, CA 19-9, is 0 - 35.  At the beginning of treatment the count was 46,000 and as of June 2011 the count was 250.  Eventually, the present regimen will cease to be effective and a second line of treatment will be needed. Unfortunately, PC research is greatly underfunded and an effective second line of treatment has not been developed. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths, but receives only 2% of the National Cancer Institute's research funds. Two bills (SB362 and HR733) are in congress that would increase the funding. Please, urge your congressional representatives to support these bills. For more information go to the PANCAN (Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

 

Because I responded so well to treatment, in November, 2010 the bladder mass was removed. The tumor proved to be cancerous, but the good news was that the cancer was unrelated to the PC. That meant the pancreatic cancer was not spreading.

 

In January, 2011 I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Because the pancreas produces insulin, diabetes and pancreatic cancer are linked. Either disease can lead to the other.

 

Not only have the medical personnel at the Cancer Care Center been great but the aides and staff have also been great. They all greet me by name and with a smile. Kathy Yeatman-Stock, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, has been a great source of encouragement. If I could not get excellent care at PVHMC I would be spending a lot of time on the freeway going elsewhere for treatment. I feel good about where I am today (August, 2011) compared to 19 months ago and much of that is due to the Cancer Care Center.

 

My greatest support comes from family and friends. Their help and prayers have been outstanding and my wife, Diane, has been a rock. A great source of support comes from my Caring Bridge website. This website allows people with significant health issues to easily keep family and friends informed of their progress. Because of Caring Bridge I have been included in several prayer groups.

 

A great motivational tool to reach and then surpass the 5% five year survival rate has been to establish two long term goals. I plan to attend the 55th reunion of my high school graduating class. That reunion will take place about four months before the five year survival date. The second goal is to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary about seven months after the five year survival date. We honeymooned in a Yosemite National Park tent-cabin. We will spend our 50th anniversary in Yosemite's Ahwahnee Lodge.

 

Another aspect of a successful journey is remaining active. I was one of the models in the 2010 "Celebrating with Style":luncheon and Fashion Show fundraiser for the Cancer Care Center. I also prepare breakfast packages for the homeless on a monthly basis, gave my survivor story at the 2011 Cal Poly Relay for Life, manned a PC information booth at the Orange county Fair, raised funds through the American Cancer Society's Notes to Neighbors Program and participated in the Upland Relay for Life. Over the last two years I have received the most dollar pledges for the Relay for Life. To locate a Relay for Life in your area go Relay for Life.

 

To follow my progress, register at Caring Bridge and check the appropriate box to receive automatic notifications that the journal has been updated. If you like to communicate with someone who has "been there, done that", feel free to email me at jkcheever@msn.com.

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