My brother, Dave has pancreatic cancer. I shared his story in June 2011. At the time, his prognosis was bleak because of the tumor location. Surgery was not an option according to his doctors. He was on an enormous amount of drugs for pain and had lost a lot of weight. The doctors told him to make sure everything was in order.
Dave went through several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments over the next several months. By December, he was able to take a break.
While he was going through treatment, never gave up, in fact, he worked harder than ever on being present.
Attitude Makes a Difference
There was a clear agenda in our family, which my father said better than anyone else.
“You have to be around to take advantage of future cancer advances.”
That philosophy laid the ground work for Dave to fight the disease for himself and others. He challenges assumptions, sets goals and looks for creative solutions. I’ll share some of those with you.
Health Makes a Difference
During his treatment and afterwards, my brother focused on his health, not his disease. From his research, he found that people, who die from cancer, don’t necessarily die from the disease. They die from pneumonia or some other secondary condition that is brought on by declining healthiness.
His goal was to stay as healthy as he could and that meant pushing himself to exercise, eat right and exposing himself to other germs to keep his immune system engaged. This last effort was contrary to what the literature suggests – more often you find cancer patients limiting their interaction with others during critical times.
Exercise has been a part of gaining his strength and stamina. Today, he can easily ride 100 miles in a day – in fact he is probably in better health than ever.
When Dave walks into his doctor’s office they can’t believe he is a cancer patient.
Research Makes a Difference
Dave has the BRCA2 gene defect. Knowing about this gene mutation has been instrumental in treating the tumor. The “cocktail” of drugs used in chemotherapy were different because of this gene mutation.
When Dave talks to other cancer patients and asks if they have had any type of genetic testing, the overwhelming response is “No”. This baffles us. We realize that genetic testing is not a mainstream recommendation. However, if cancer has been in your family history, most insurance companies will cover it. Even if they don’t it might save or extend your life.
The decision whether or not to take a genetic test often scares people. They are afraid that insurance companies will not cover them. However, if you have cancer, that becomes a moot point.
If you are thinking about taking a genetic test to find out if you carry the gene because your father or mother has had cancer, then you do want to go about it carefully. One doctor advised me to make sure you have life insurance before taking the test.
Bottom line for Dave, I believe knowing about his BRCA2 genetic defect significantly increased his treatment effectiveness.
The Payoff: Re-evaluation of Options
Over the next several months, Dave continued to have CT/ETC scans and in each case, the tumor remained inactive and there were no signs of it spreading to other organs.
This summer, his doctor suggested that the surgeons re-evaluate his case. On Friday, he is having the Whipple Procedure done.
On the one hand you might say it is a difficult decision – he’s doing well why rock the boat?
The fact is cancer can become active at any time. Remission is a transitory state. Now is the best time opportunity to have the cancer removed.
Dave has a long recovery road ahead, but his attitude is in the right place. He knows what he did to pull himself from that bad place eighteen months ago and is determined to do it again.