Pancreatic Cancer – "The Silent Killer"
The stats, numbers, and figures paint a sad prognosis. Only about 8% of people with pancreatic cancer live past their five year anniversary of diagnosis. The numbers are slowly increasing, but it is one , if not the only, cancer with 5-year survival rates still in the single digits. Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive, cancer that is more commonly diagnosed in the late stages of the disease. Worse yet, there are no specific symptoms for pancreatic cancer. Usually, the symptoms include back pain, indigestion, and even heartburn – all common ailments that many people experience The rate at which the cancer can grow is astounding; within months, a person could go from running a marathon to becoming critically ill.
Only a small percentage of patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are eligible for surgery as the tumors typically involve vital arteries and veins that cannot be sacrificed. Even then, sometimes surgeons don’t realize that the cancer has spread until the patient is operated on, in which the surgery will be aborted. And even if the surgery is successful, there is an 80% chance of the cancer returning and being as aggressive as it was before. Because cancer is a mutation of healthy cells, cancer cells can also mutates against current conventional chemotherapy – making the chemotherapy ineffective.
Our Story – A whirlwind
Complaining for months about heartburn and indigestion, dad went to see a doctor in the summer of 2016. He was prescribed a medication to treat heartburn – a common gastrointestinal issue. Over the summer months, this medication didn’t help as his symptoms persisted but he was advised to give the medicine a chance to work. Meanwhile the doctor ordered a few tests for which the results came back normal. By December, he was losing weight to the notice of friends and family. Early in the New Year, with more weight loss, his doctor recommended an ultasound. The result was not good; they found a shadow on his pancreas. A CT scan was scheduled for the following week and it was the most agonizing wait as our family didn’t know what to expect.
An hour after we returned home from the CT scan, we received a call to go see a specialist who revealed the cancer diagnosis. He informed us that with the lesion/mass encasing a few arteries, the tumor was inoperable. Our family was devastated and numbed by the news. I screamed!
The following week we were consumed by further appointments including scheduling and rescheduling of a biopsy which is necessary for admission to the Cross Cancer Institute (CCI) where dad would receive treatments. The next appointment with the surgeon confirmed the diagnois as pancreatic adenocarcinoma - the most common type of pancreatic cancer.
After being diagnoised, dad appeared to be getting worse and worse, succumbing to more pain daily. He became fatigued easily, and didn’t have the desire to do anything. As a family, we handled it the best we could, even though we all broke down many times. Even with the help of his GP, it took five weeks before he had his first appointment at CCI. After consultation with his oncologist, dad decided to receive chemotherapy, and one of the strongest drugs of all - Folfirnox. In order to receive the drug, dad needed a port surgically inserted into him, followed by a week to heal. After another CT scan, it was confirmed that the cancer was active, as the tumor had now grown to 9.4 x 8.4 cm in dimension! On March 15th, 2017, a full 7 weeks and 5 days from his suspicious initial diagnosis from the ultrasound, dad began chemotheraphy.
I’ve always thought cancer was awful, but I never realized how awful it was until my Dad was diagnosed. I’ve learned so much about cancer, cancer treatments, and stories of cancer miracles and horrors, but I can’t begin to describe the pain of seeing a loved one suffer and feeling helpless. I can’t begin to describe the sleepless nights our family has endured wondering ‘what next?’. I can’t begin to list how many supplements, medications, steroids, pain killers (oxycodone and medical marijuana) and other treatments he’s taking to combat the list of side effects of chemotherapy, and symptoms of the disease. Until you or a close one is affected, you really don’t know.
This is hope, and we are hopeful. There are survivors of this devastating disease and the rates of survival are slowly increasing. However, to beat this disease, not only is chemotherapy important, but additional treatments and supplements are essential. These treatments are usually not covered or partially covered by Alberta Health Care or Blue Cross. In addition to chemotherapy, dad is taking mistletoe therapy and Vitamin C infusion treatments. Mistletoe helps boost the immune system and inhibit cancer cell growth while vitamin C aides in the destruction of cancer cells and helps the chemo attack. At the same clinic, he is also receiving local thermal ablation (a.k.a. local hyperthermia) which destroys cancer cells using heat. The cost of these treatments are minimally covered by his work insurance but the majority of the cost is funded out of pocket.
Mistletoe - $25 each application (3 applications/week)
Intravenous Vitamin C- $190/session (once or twice a week)
Local Thermal Ablation (a.k.a. local hyperthermia) - $375 /hour (3- 4 times per chemo rounds)
These costs, of course, are in addition to the medications, supplements, and insulin.
There is a minimally invasive procedure called Irreversible electroporation (IRE, a.k.a. NanoKnife) that sticks probes into the cancerous tumor and electrocutes the cancer cells, killing them. This procedure has been commonly performed with other cancers, and it is now increasingly performed for pancreatic cancer patients. IRE can not only kill cancer cells, but it can put the cancer in remission, leaving only scar tissue behind. Unfortunately, dad is not eligible for Nanoknife at the moment. If dad’s tumour continues to shrink with his current treatments, he may be eligible. This procedure will give dad many more years, and hopefully put the cancer into remission.
Of course, IRE costs a lot of money as well, and the procedure is unavailable in Alberta. Currently it is performed as clinical trials in Saskatchewan and Ontario. To travel to the USA to get IRE performed, it may cost upwards of $300,000 CAD. The UK and Germany offer this procedure at a much reduced rate of $65,000-$75,000 – all before travel and accommodation expenses.
As you can see, all of my dad’s treatments require a significant amount of money, and while some are covered by healthcare and his work insurance, not all are. This is why I’m asking for your help and donations to raise enough funds for my beloved dad to continue his treatments and raise enough to support his potentially life-saving procedure overseas.
What you can do to help
We are currently accepting donations to help my dad continue his treatments and potentially raise enough to have IRE performed.
I thank each and every one of those who donated. For those of you who know me, I love my dad, and I need him. From the bottom of my heart, thank you; your contributions will not go unnoticed.
- Rob Androschuk
- Denis Painchaud
- colleen Adamic
- Cynthia McIntosh
Organizer and beneficiary
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