Thursday, January 17, 2013

Pancreatic Cancer- basic information for people like me

I wanted to blog about pancreatic cancer, partly so I can learn more about it, but also to help spread awareness. I currently know two people that are battling this scary cancer, that seems to have no cure... One person in particular has just decided today to quit chemotherapy. This person has just lost another 11lbs in one week. In the year that I have known this person, I have seen them change from being a vibrant healthy person to a frail skeleton of a person. :'(   BTW, in order to respect privacy, I will not divulge whether the people I know are males or females, nor will I say names. Thank you for understanding.

First thing I needed to know was, what EXACTLY is pancreatic cancer. The only things I knew about it was that the famous actor, Patrick Swayze, died from it, as well as Steve Jobs, who was founder and CEO of Apple Computers.  So I did some digging. I found the website  There is a beautifully done FAQ section about this disease. It really goes into great detail, although the disclaimer says that it was not easy to come up with the "answers" to such general questions.

There are quite a few origins for pancreatic cancer, but from what I was reading, the most common starts as a tumor and spreads rapidly. For many years there has not been a reliable screen for this type of cancer, so it usually isn't detected early enough to eradicate it completely- by the time most people are diagnosed, the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. It is stated in the FAQ's that every year over 40,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the US, and most of those people will die within one year of diagnosis. :o(

Which brings my next question- what is the average life expectancy after diagnosis? The FAQ's state: "The median survival period from the time of diagnosis until demise is arguably the worst of any of the cancers. The median survival for untreated advanced cancer of the pancreas is about 3 1/2 months; with good treatment this increases to about six months."

Yowzers. That doesn't sound very pleasant. Sadly, the person that I menti oned earlier has been battling this cancer for about a year now. I keep hearing from others that the minute someone decides to quit chemo, it is only a matter of time before they actually pass. The other person I know was recently diagnosed, about 2 months ago. This person was told by the doctors "no treatment and you will probably die in 3-6months, but if you opt for treatment, you can live up to 2 more years."  That's a hard pill to swallow, being told by your doctor that you will only live for another 3 months to 2 years.

My next question is now how is it detected, or rather, what are the signs that doctors look for? In all fairness, the basic symptoms are often overlooked, since they are fairly common; such as loss of appetite, rapid weight loss, and nausea.  In actuality, this is part of the reason why this cancer is not detected early on, when it is entirely possible to kill it. From the onset of the symptoms, years can pass before the cancer is officially detected and diagnosed, and sadly that happens when it has spread throughout the body. That is the number one reason why the mortality rates are so high with pancreatic cancer. Detection itself can be through lab tests, which check for a certain marker called the CA 19-9. Traditionally, that marker elevated meant cancer, but is also is measured to tell the doctor how widespread the cancer is.  Other methods of detection include ultrasounds and surgical methods.

If, the patient is extremely lucky, and the cancer is detected when it is still just a tumor and has not spread, surgery is the first option to remove the tumor. Sadly, only about 15-20% of diagnosed patients are eligible for that surgery.

Treatement options vary, to reflect on the patients individuality, wishes, and preferences. Typical treatment is chemotherapy plus radiation, aka chemoradiation. In patients that have been diagnosed earlier where the cancer has not spread very far, the chemoradiation often prolongs the patients life anywhere from 6 months to one year. In patients with advanced cancer, various other treatments are available, including new clinical trials using new drugs and/or mix of different drugs. The person who decided today to stop chemo was going through a new clinical trial.

As I was looking for information regarding pancreatic cancer, I came across this interesting article on the Huffington Post.  I had no idea that Sally Ride had recently passed away from this cancer, nor did I know that Luciano Pavarotti and Dizzy Gillespie also died from it. This article has some interesting information about some of the famous celebrities that passed from pancreatic cancer, as well as a few that battled and survived, such as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.   Did you know that Steve Jobs battled pancreatic cancer for 7 years??  Sally Ride battled it for 17months.  Patrick Swayze was diagnosed in January of 2008 and passed in September of 2009, making that a 21 month battle.  Luciano Pavarotti was diagnosed July 2006, and passed September 2007, making his battle a mere 13 months.  Other famous celebrities that passed include Jack Benny, Donna Reed, Ben Gazzara, Fred Gwynne (better known as Herman Munster from the 60's show "The Munsters"), Joan Crawford, Charlie Louvin, Michael Landon, and Count Basie.  The Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg was extremely lucky to have had the cancer detected so early. She had battled colon cancer in 1999, and because she was a cancer survivor, she had to endure constant ct scans and other preventative measures to ensure the cancer didn't come back. During one of those routine scans, a small tumor was detected in her pancreas. As of the date of the article, July of 2012, she had remained cancer free!

I hope that whoever reads my post takes precaution and does thier own research as well. I only have the basic information here. I also hope that anyone who is searching for information to understand this disease better, will have a better knowledge after reading this. There is sooooo much information out there on the internet- I honestly felt overwhelemed when I did a google search. But what I have read, and reported here, I personally have a slightly better understanding of pancreatic cancer. Sadly, I will never understand this disease, and it seems that most doctors will never fully understand it either. This disease is sadly one of hundreds of cancers that are still being studied to get a better understanding of.

This is what I understand now: Pancreatic cancer is a difficult cancer to diagnose, and usually is not detected until it is late stage cancer, meaning that it has spread throughout the body. By that time a patients life expectancy is honestly only a few months after diagnosis, unless the patient opts for treatment, and then that will only add a few more months at the worst to a few more years at the very best. Pancreatic cancer is aggressive because it affects the main organ that helps control blood sugar and also helps aid in digestion and absorbtion of nutrients. Patients will have a decreased appetite, rapid weight loss due to the decreased appetite, and a huge decrease in energy.  I have overheard descriptions of family members telling others that the person who died of pancreatic cancer looked like a concentration camp refugee right before death. Not a very pleasant picture. In fact, the person who lost 11 lbs in one week is sadly starting to look like that. :o( Since diagnosis, this person has lost over 80 lbs, in a period of nearly one year- good for an overweight person who needed to loose the weight, but not for someone who weighed 200something lbs at the time of diagnosis. I believe that this person currently weighs around 120-140 lbs right now.

To say it bluntly: pancreatic cancer is bad.  I would not wish that on even my worst enemy.

Please pray for my friend who is nearing the end of life, as well as everyone else in the world that is battling pancreatic cancer... pray for everyone who is battling any type of cancer. Pray for peace and comfort and either healing or quick endings. Pray for thier families- comfort and peace as well for them.

One day we will beat cancer. It may not happen in MY lifetime, but it WILL be beaten!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Happy New Year to ALL!

My sincere apologies for not updating this blog more often. I am hoping that 2013 will be a much better year and I will be able to share a lot more with everyone on this blog.

Health wise, I am still struggling personally with a few issues. I think that this year it will be time to explore some health issues more in depth and finally bring some guest bloggers to the mix. :o)