My mother died of pancreatic cancer in the early 1970s and I was diagnosed with pancreatic adenocarcinoma in 2007. Soon after, I underwent potentially life-saving Whipple surgery and had no detectable disease until 2010, when a routine surveillance scan suggested a metastasis of pancreatic cancer in my liver. A biopsy of my liver was done to confirm the metastasis. I now had stage 4 pancreatic cancer, a disease condition that is almost invariably fatal.
With chances of my survival tenuous, at best, my doctors were reluctant to treat me aggressively and instead offered only palliative care. I insisted on treatment that was bold, aggressive, decisive, and rapid and they finally agreed to present my case to the hospital’s tumor board. The board agreed to a PET scan to detect possible cancer metastases beyond my liver and, if none was present, to perform liver surgery to excise the tumor. Very fortunately my PET scan results were negative, the tumor was removed by liver surgery, and I became one of the extremely rare survivors of stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Moreover, I have now been cancer-free for more than a decade and have returned to excellent robust health and a full-time demanding career.
In addition to transitioning from patient to survivor and then to pancreatic cancer patient advocate over the past decade I also am a medical school professor and direct the course in which future doctors gain their first systematic knowledge of pancreatic cancer. Thus, I have the unique opportunity to share my first-hand experience with pancreatic cancer with both patients and their loved ones, and also with the medical community. In this liaison-type role, I have become most impressed with the need for early detection in preventing death from pancreatic cancer. This is because about 25 percent of pancreatic cancer patients die within one month after diagnosis, 50 percent pass away within three months and almost ¾ of patients are gone within one year.
Much better earlier detection has great promise - along with recent and future innovations in treatment by improved surgical techniques, advances in tumor ablation, and improved chemotherapy - to increase both the survival rate and the length of survival from pancreatic cancer.
Because of the complexities of the various type of pancreatic cancer, the ultimate goal - a cure– is unlikely to be found immediately. For now, however, better methods of earlier pancreatic cancer detection will contribute both to increased survival and, eventually to a simpler, more readily obtainable cure.
For this reason, I am asking you to please contribute to the Seena Magowitz Pancreatic Cancer Foundation’s efforts to raise money for earlier and better detection of pancreatic cancer. Any donation is appreciated, no matter how small. Your contribution can make an important difference.