Mark: Pancreatic Cancer Survivor
Dedicated to tomorrow's beginning
Before being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 33 I thought I was in the best shape of my life. I had recently started working out, and it was during these workouts that I began to notice a pain in my abdomen. I went to see my family doctor, but after many visits and many tests, they could not diagnosis the source of the pain. To try to find a diagnosis, I was referred to Yale-New Haven Hospital for an endoscopic ultrasound.
I had learned from a colleague that endoscopic ultrasounds were often done as a way to diagnosis pancreatic cancer. This thought seemed ridiculous to me at the time since I was only 33 and had never been sick before in my life. When the ultrasound revealed a tumor and I was diagnosed with advanced adenocarcinoma of the pancreas, my first thought was, “How am I going to tell my mother?” She had lost her twin brother to colon cancer at a young age, and I couldn’t bear to tell her that her son now had cancer as well.
After my diagnosis I was immediately scheduled for surgery with Dr. Ronald Salem, Lampman Professor of Surgery and Oncology at Yale Cancer Center. While performing the surgery he discovered that the tumor had grown around one of my blood vessels, and surgery to remove the tumor would not be possible. At the time I did not fully realize how dire my diagnosis was, which was probably for the best because it allowed me the strength to concentrate on surviving and fighting this disease.
In order to explore other treatment options, I was referred to the Section of Medical Oncology where I met with my oncologist, Dr. Barbara Burtness. She recommended a clinical trial in hopes of shrinking the tumor for later surgery. I enrolled in the trial and had 10 months of treatment including radiation and chemotherapy.
All of the CT scans during these 10 months showed that the tumor had not shrunk, but was also not growing. I was happy with this news but I knew that my best chance for long term survival was surgery. So, because of my young age, and the lack of other treatment options, Dr. Salem agreed to try again to remove the tumor. He performed a Whipple procedure, or a pancreatoduodenectomy.
I will never forget the moment when Dr. Salem came to my hospital room, sat at the foot of my bed, and told me the news that no cancer cells were found. Apparently, only scar tissue remained where the tumor had once been. I did not realize the significance of this at the time, and Dr. Salem seemed more excited than I was. I was just happy to hear the tumor was gone, and did not appreciate what had occurred until later, when I realized how truly miraculous something like this is for any cancer patient, especially one with advanced adenocarcinoma of the pancreas. I attribute my good fortune to the fact that Dr. Salem, Dr. Burtness, and the entire staff at Yale Cancer Center never gave up on me. They knew my outlook was bleak, but continued to fight the disease right alongside me the entire way.
Returning to work was difficult, I didn’t miss being sick, but I missed my family at Yale. I was treated so well by everyone there and I got to see the good in people through this experience. Anyone that goes through something like this can’t help but have a better appreciation for life. I also have a deeper appreciation for the work I do as a research scientist at Pfizer. I feel that the work we do has a tremendous impact on people’s lives, not to mention saving my own.
Five years later I am still cancer free, a new husband, and a new father to my daughter Clara. There was a time when I didn’t think there would be a life after cancer for me, but thanks to the support of my family, friends, all the healthcare providers at Yale, and the friends I met in the oncology treatment room, I am living a full life after cancer. One friend that I met, who unfortunately passed away, would always remind me that we are a statistic of 1; no matter what the odds are, there is always hope.
I believe that a big part of life is just showing up, and you have to keep coming back for treatments no matter what. The days when I felt the worst, I also felt the best, because I knew that something was being done. I was doing something to increase my chances of survival. I have never been happier and look forward to spending the rest of my life with my beautiful family.