Exercise for Physical and Mental Well-Being
During my routine training session at the gym, my trainer noticed I looked jaundiced and recommended I see a doctor. Prior to this, I was experiencing urine discoloration but I thought this was caused by dehydration. At the time I was 73, in excellent health, lived a very active lifestyle and was not in any pain. I saw my doctor that afternoon and after a CT scan the next day I was blindsided by a diagnosis of Stage II pancreatic cancer. My tumor measured 5 centimeters—nearly 2 inches!
How could I—someone with no history of cancer or no known risk factors, and who had never even been admitted to a hospital—receive such a crushing, life-altering diagnosis? Thanks to my personal trainer, my pancreatic cancer was diagnosed before it had metastasized.
A Positive Mindset
My wife, Nancy, and my children and I were in complete shock and disbelief. We were incredibly frightened by the diagnosis and filled with immeasurable anxiety. In fact, the moment I was diagnosed it felt like I was hit by a two-by-four across my face. However, refusing to be paralyzed by fear, I immediately went into action and reached out to everyone I knew who had any type of cancer to learn from their experiences and to seek their advice. I found research demonstrating a patient’s attitude helps with treatment, surgery and recovery. So I vowed to stay positive. I made a conscious decision to block out the terrifying survival statistics and focus on my individual treatment and healing. Thanks to the support of my devoted family and the expertise of my phenomenal medical team, I was able to stay positive throughout.
Luckily, after the results of my first CT scan, my gastroenterologist thought my tumor was resectable (meaning it could be surgically removed) which is an option for less than 20 percent of pancreatic cancer patients. I researched and interviewed surgeons near my home in the San Francisco area and selected my surgeon based on his experience performing thousands of Whipple surgeries. This is a lengthy, complicated surgery offering pancreatic cancer patients like me the best chance for long-term survival.
Before I was eligible for surgery, I needed chemotherapy treatment to shrink my tumor. I was treated with FOLFIRINOX, one of the harshest chemotherapy regimens imaginable. This treatment shrunk my tumor in half and I was able to undergo Whipple surgery five months later. During my chemotherapy treatments I also underwent a molecular test of my tumor to help determine the most effective type of chemical to use for my chemotherapy. While molecular testing is important for every cancer patient to have, it didn’t reveal any specific beneficial results for me.
During my Whipple surgery, my surgeon removed my gallbladder, bile duct, half of my pancreas and 27 lymph nodes—all of which tested clear. I was incredibly fortunate that my surgeon didn’t have to remove any part of my stomach. After hearing these results I was able to breathe a tremendous sigh of relief.
Recovering from the Whipple surgery was challenging as I lost a lot of weight and muscle mass. I was determined, however, to move forward and regain the lost weight and strength. After my recovery, I was placed on a chemotherapy maintenance program for five months and began exercising again with my trainer. I am convinced my activity level was critical to my recovery and helped me cope mentally and emotionally.
I am now free of medication and my post-surgery scans and blood work have shown no evidence of cancer cells. My last scan was clean. My current protocol is a blood test every two months and a CT scan every four months.
A New Appreciation for Life
Pancreatic cancer has definitely changed my views toward life. I have a greater appreciation for life and I am touched to have so many family members and friends who have rallied around me and helped me stay positive. I will always be anxious for the future as I am fully aware that my fight against pancreatic cancer is not completely over, but I am tremendously grateful to be here to tell my story and to be in a healthy place again. I have regained 20 of the 25 pounds I lost after surgery and I am rebuilding my strength daily.
When researching my diagnosis, the Lustgarten Foundation appeared in some of my search results so I explored the site to gain more information about the Foundation. I decided to contribute to the Lustgarten Foundation because of several factors:
- The Foundation has a unique commitment to ensuring 100% of every donation goes directly to research.
- The research the Foundation is performing has an excellent chance of success.
- The Foundation has been in existence for over 20 years and is very well-established.
- The Foundation has a very impressive Board of Directors.
Faith in the Research
I believe federal funding for cancer research is lacking and this makes it more important for organizations such as the Lustgarten Foundation to bridge this gap. In 2020, I designated my donation for the early detection research on the CancerSEEK blood test program and the Foundation’s research on organoids for personalized medicine. Researchers are developing the CancerSEEK blood test so it can detect the early presence of multiple cancers, including pancreatic cancer, and also identify the origin of these cancers. The CancerSEEK research lays the groundwork for a single blood screening test for multiple cancers that could be offered as part of routine medical checks.
Additionally, the Lustgarten Foundation is spearheading a clinical trial involving the organoid—a three-dimensional cell structure system that reproduces a patient’s tumor to test it repeatedly with different drugs. The organoid helps determine which first-line treatment is most likely to be effective in each patient and also helps researchers identify tailor-made therapies for patients who do not respond to either first-line treatment.
I know patients’ lives will be profoundly affected when doctors are able to find the disease at an early, treatable stage and remove the cancer surgically. I am confident the research supported by the Lustgarten Foundation could have a life-changing impact on patients and their families. Thanks to my early detection, I am blessed to be in the top 1% of pancreatic cancer patients in terms of survival and now I believe it is my responsibility and my privilege to help more patients have the same result.
Bill’s Advice for Navigating a Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis
- If you feel there is something wrong with your body and the first doctor doesn’t find anything, seek additional opinions until someone can figure your situation out.
- Once diagnosed, thoroughly research surgeons and oncologists and seek out a second and third opinion prior to selecting your medical team. If you are having surgery, identify a transplant surgeon who has specific expertise in pancreatic cancer or a surgeon who is very experienced with performing Whipple procedures.
- Thoroughly research pancreatic cancer and develop questions to ask your medical team. If you are properly armed with the knowledge available you’re in a much better position to advocate for yourself.
- Never go to a doctor’s appointment alone. You and the person accompanying you should compare notes after each appointment.
- You have a voice as to your medical team’s path to your success. Make sure you understand it and ask for alternatives if they are not mentioned.
- Understand the side effects that you may experience from the medication you will be taking and pay close attention to how to prevent them, if possible. Communicate with your oncologist and follow his/her instructions for all medications.
- Have a positive attitude and surround yourself with family and friends.
- Speak to survivors directly to understand their experiences so you are better prepared for your own journey and can learn from their path.