At 81, Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer Patient Bill Powell Is Beating the Odds
Written By: Julia Brabant
Date of Diagnosis: November 1, 2021
Current Status: In treatment (chemotherapy)
Looking at Bill Powell, most people would never guess he’d been through a quadruple bypass surgery, a diabetes diagnosis and a Stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis within the past four years. Yet, that’s exactly what the now-81-year-old from O’Fallon, Missouri, went through, and somehow, he remains happy, healthy and energetic in spite of it.
In October 2020, Bill had a quadruple bypass procedure when four of the blood vessels leading into his heart became blocked. Quadruple bypass patients face a long road to recovery, so when Bill began experiencing back pain about a year later, he thought it might be lingering effects. He also had degenerative discs, which can cause ongoing neck and back pain, and thought that this might be contributing to his pain, too.
Bill dropped about 30 pounds recovering from heart surgery, but when his weight started falling even faster and stomach pain accompanied the weight loss, he knew it was time to see a doctor. He had an endoscopy, which revealed what doctors called “an irritation.” However, they didn’t think there was a link between the irritation and the symptoms he was describing.
The team at the hospital administered a CAT scan and other tests, and by midnight, Bill’s doctor returned. Bill could tell immediately by his disposition that the news wasn’t good. The doctor had identified pancreatic cancer, and it had metastasized to his liver. His CA-19-9 marker, which sometimes indicates advanced cancer of the pancreas, was 105,000, with that of a typical healthy individual usually falling somewhere in the 0 – 37 range.
“So, what you’re telling me is I have one foot in the door and one foot out?” He half-joked to his doctor, using humor to lighten the situation for the first of many times throughout his journey. “Just so you know, my significant other is 22 years younger than me, and I’m not planning to leave anytime soon.”
That significant other, Chrystal, works for an employer that had long supported Stand Up to Cancer. A contact she had there put Chrystal in touch with Dr. Erkut Borazanci, M.D., an oncologist and clinical investigator at the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at HonorHealth Research Institute in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Dr. Borazanci, or “Dr. B,” to his patients, specializes in gastrointestinal oncology with an emphasis on pancreatic cancer. He worked in close conjunction with Bill’s doctor in St. Louis to come up with a treatment plan for Bill.
After having physical therapy to continue to build strength back following his quadruple bypass, Bill began chemotherapy in November 2021. He has infusions every other week in St. Louis and takes periodic trips to Scottsdale to see the other members of his care team. So far, he’s had 26 rounds of chemo, and after each, he leaves with a pump that administers more medicine for another 48 hours.
Bill said he has neuropathy due to the chemo, which can cause weakness, numbness and pain in the hands and feet. Overall, though, he feels he tolerates the treatment fairly well.
While undergoing treatment, Bill urged his own children to have genetic tests performed to get a better idea of their own cancer risks, as his own father, too, had pancreatic cancer. They did so, but their tests didn’t reveal anything obvious that heightened their risk.
Bill’s own test results are also looking positive. In January 2023, his CA 19-9 marker was 56, falling from that all-time high of 105,000. His medical team also said his current condition is phenomenal given his age and recent medical history. They believed his positive attitude and strong physical condition heading into heart surgery helped him respond successfully to treatment.
As for Bill, he gives the credit back to Chrystal, his family and his care team.
Bill also noted that while it’s a doctor’s job to give instructions, it’s his job to take them to heart.
“You have to listen to your doctors, but doctors can only do so much. It’s up to me to follow their instructions and maintain my lifestyle,” he said.
Bill also believes his positive attitude played a role in how successful his treatment has been thus far.
Bill continues to undergo chemo for pancreatic cancer as of March 2023.