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Given Just Weeks To Live, He Defied The Odds

Written By Tony Subia

EDITOR UPDATE. Juan Burton-Flores unexpectedly passed away August 29, 2019. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer in July of 2017. His original prognosis gave him only a couple of months to live. He defied the odds and lived for two years.

This Was Juan Burton-Flores’ Story:

In early May of 2017, Juan Burton-Flores, a resident of Hermosillo, Mexico began experiencing discomfort in his abdomen area. When symptoms persisted, he underwent an endoscopy which examined his digestive system through an inserted scope. According to his doctor, they did not find a problem and he was given a clean bill of health. Unfortunately this was a misdiagnosis.

By the following July, Juan had lost 20 pounds and the symptoms not only continued to persist, but progressively became more intense. He and his wife Geovanna Proto went back to his doctor who became concerned and ordered an MRI scan. The results would change the couple’s life dramatically. Juan was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. A 9.1 centimeter tumor was found in the tail of his pancreas and had adhered to his colon, kidney, and spleen.

“The doctor concluded that any treatment would not make a measurable difference and his prognosis was that Juan likely would not survive more than a couple of months” Geovanna said.

But Geovanna and Juan were unwilling to accept that prognosis. They began searching the Internet for credible sources for a second opinion that would give them a more positive outlook. According to Geovanna, “our searches for treatment kept leading back to Dr. Daniel Von Hoff of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix. He had the reputation of being among the best pancreatic cancer research oncologists in the world. We learned that Dr. Von Hoff had implemented a clinical trial at the HonorHealth Research Institute in Scottsdale, Arizona. We lived in Hermosillo, Mexico and couldn’t believe that driving to Scottsdale was only about a six-hour trip.”

Journey To Arizona

By August of 2017, Juan and Geovanna had relocated to the Phoenix and Scottsdale area so Juan could begin the clinical trial under the direction of Dr. Von Hoff and and Dr. Erkut Borazanci, another leading pancreatic cancer researcher with the HonorHealth Research Institute.

“At first we were nervous about moving to Arizona and Juan had initially preferred to go to Mexico City for treatment,” Geovanna said. “But when we got to Scottsdale, everyone on our HonorHealth treatment team were so wonderful to us. They became like an extended family”

At the clinical trial, the chemotherapy treatment regimen included a combination of five drugs which included Abraxane, Gemcitabine, Cisplatin, Paricalcitol (a synthetic form of Vitamin D) and Nivolumab (an immunotherapy drug). The clinical trial was nick-named “The Grand Slam.”

“Juan would be so exhausted after a 12 hour session of chemo, but we were so happy to be there because of all the love we felt made it so enjoyable” Geovanna said.

During the course of his treatment, Juan and Geovanna came to know about the Seena Magowitz Foundation established by Roger Magowitz in memory of his mother who died of pancreatic cancer. Juan and Geovanna also learned about the Foundation’s ongoing fundraising which provides funding for pancreatic cancer research by Dr. Von Hoff.

“When we heard about all the work Roger does, we were so impressed,” Geovanna said. “Here his mom passed away in 2001 and he’s still so devoted to the cause of finding a cure for pancreatic cancer. These are the things that lift us up. If Roger continues to fight on behalf of us and all pancreatic cancer patients, we have to conjure-up the spirit to fight like warriors. We can’t give up.”

Thankful For Blessings

Geovanna reflected on unexpected surprise. “Roger Magowitz invited us to attend his Foundation’s Annual Golf Classic that was held in August, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts” said Geovanna. “When would I ever have thought Juan and I would be in Boston? It’s been quite a journey and we hope to be at the Golf Classic next year.”

“Juan had an impressive response to his treatment under Dr. Von Hoff and Dr. Borazanci” Geovanna said. “When we got to Scottsdale, in addition to his pancreas tumor, he had four masses in his liver and masses in his peritoneum. When he finished the treatment, the size of the pancreas tumor had reduced from 9.1 to 4.5 centimeters, and there was no sign of masses in his liver or his peritoneum.

Juan and Geovanna have a renewed, more positive outlook on life and hope and pray the treatments will extend Juan’s quality of life for many years well beyond the “couple of months” that was the original prognosis. And who knows, with the more rapid pace of medical research, today, there could be a cure of pancreatic cancer discovered in the near future.

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