It was a shock, a punch in the gut, something I didn't expect. The diagnosis of Pancreatic cancer has typically been a death sentence. I thought, "How much longer do I have to live?".
As I sat in consultation with my primary doctor and then the Oncology team at University of California San Francisco's Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, I was told the "good news"- that since the tumor was discovered so early on, the size and particular cell makeup was small and hadn't metastasized, I had a good shot at a favorable outcome.
I wasn't suffering from the symptoms that Pancreatic cancer often exhibits when it is discovered and diagnosed in later stages of the disease. In fact, my tumor was detected incidentally - by coincidence. Doctors spotted the tumor when reviewing a scan for an unrelated issue. I attribute this event to saving my life and I am extremely fortunate and grateful.
I was deemed eligible to be put on an aggressive FOLFIRINOX chemotherapy regimen. Even though my tumor was small, the oncologists wanted to give me the best chance at a favorable outcome. My treatment lasted nearly 8 months.
Chemotherapy began at the Mission Bay campus of UCSF the week of February 7th, 2020. I was very concerned and nervous- yet resolute. A peace came upon me for my first chemo infusion, with the visit to the center lasting nearly 7 hours. Compassionate and very communicative nurses put me at ease.
My chemotherapy treatment was administered of over a twenty-four week period, from February to September, 2020. I entered the Cancer Infusion Center on Friday mornings. Pre-chemo medications were administered, then two of three chemotherapy drugs were slowly infused into my body one at a time, and by mid-afternoon, I'd be ready to leave.
I went home with a small pressurized pump in a fanny pack which contained the third chemo drug, dubbed "5FU", slowly dripping the medication into my port over a 48-hour period. Returning to the Cancer Center two days later, the pump was disconnected. I would then ride an intense rollercoaster of after-effects of my chemotherapy at home for the next twelve days, only to return back to UCSF for another round of chemo the next week.
These treatments at UCSF, from arrival, to infusion, to disconnect was repeated for twelve cycles, over a period of twenty four weeks.
Yes, it's absolutely true there are varied side effects from chemotherapy, and I experienced about 90% of them. Chemo drugs are nasty, I won't mislead you. The alternative, though, is unthinkable. I believe we must do what we have to do to stay alive to remain on this Earth.
The specific chemotherapy regimen administered to me is called FOLFIRINOX. If you look this up on Google, you'll find a long list of potential side effects. I experienced many of them during chemo infusion, or afterwards, when I was at home for the remaining twelve day period.
Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea top the list of typical side effects, which I experienced. I also endured hair loss, bouts of extreme fatigue, loss of appetite and weight loss, low blood potassium levels, tingling numbness in my fingertips and toes, and sensitivity to cold and cold objects. Fever, chills and shaking, brittle nails, mouth sores, and prolonged hiccups too. Emotionally I was on a rollercoaster of sadness and being happy to just be alive.
At UCSF, the oncology nurses constantly monitored my immuno-capabilities to ensure I wouldn't get dangerously susceptible to infection, especially during flu and Covid-19. Many if not most of these side effects can be controlled by medications, which UCSF was diligent to prescribe. It's very important to always be in contact with your oncology team to monitor side effects and adjust any medications. This made my chemotherapy treatment a bit more tolerable.
I can't emphasize enough how important it is to keep yourself occupied. Take up a hobby, do work from home, read, take long walks, talk with people closest to you. I am so grateful to have had my wife by my side every step of the way, from the initial diagnosis to the final disconnect session, though it became difficult under Covid restrictions for any visitors to accompany me. Moreover, on days I was energetic enough, I worked on political-related projects, wrote Op-Eds, appeared on TV segments, and recorded candidate and ballot measure-related instructional videos. I was so busy that the time from February to September actually seemed to pass very quickly.
Loved ones are most important to have around you. My wife, my family and significant others, my friends, business colleagues, religious leaders were invaluable. Psychological counseling, Symptoms Management Services, and nutritionists as great to reach out to as well.
I took advantage of the services of several of the counselors at UCSF and found my niche needs, which made my treatment that much less difficult. It's wise to talk to experts to get their view on the process.
I am extremely happy to report that after a nearly 10-month battle, my oncology team informed me that the effort appears to be very successful! The combination of early detection, administering of chemotherapy and the surgery to remove the tumor on my pancreas have saved my life.
It is therefore important that methods be developed and expanded for early detection, since this is the best way to ensure the best treatment and outcome. I thank everyone who gave me support, love and caring words, which clearly kept me in good spirits.
Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
According to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network:
The five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is just 10%. Too often it's caught too late, once it has already spread and it becomes difficult to treat at that point, leading to the low survival rates.
Pancreatic cancer is the 3rd leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S.
Symptoms are often vague and can include back or stomach pain, unexplained weight loss, the yellowing of the skin or eyes, and more.
There is no early detection test for pancreatic cancer. I was diagnosed through review of a CT Scan incidentally, for an unrelated issue.
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) is taking bold action to improve patient outcomes through funding critical research designed to find new treatment options and explore early detection methods
If you or a loved one is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, please contact PanCAN's Patient Services for free, personalized resources.
Learn more about Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, at PanCAN.org
© Copyright 2021 Richie Greenberg.