Share this Article:
KATHY ENGLERT LEE
An Inspirational Story of Hope and Defying The Odds
Written By Jula Brabant
Diagnosed: May 2018
Status: Continuing To Be Hopeful
It was 2016 when I had my first CT scan. My father died of pancreas cancer in 2001, so to rule out cancer the GI doctor ordered the CT scan, which showed nodules in my lungs. I followed up with my Family Doctor who, the next year, referred me to a pulmonologist in October. She saw the lung nodules and wrote they may be from histoplasmosis. I started seeing a naturopath as well as my GI team.
In 2017, I didn’t feel good and stopped going to yoga and doing normal things. At the end of the year, my primary doctor noticed my A1C started to increase. I was overweight for many years and never had an issue with blood glucose. The last diagnosis from my GI doctor office was IBS.
in May, 2018, the tumor on the head of my pancreas was accidentally discovered by my new cardiologist. He had ordered a liver ultrasound because of elevated liver enzymes obtained a month before at an ER (ED) visit. The office medical assistant called and left a message that I had a tumor on my pancreas. Shocked, terrified and in disbelief, I flew home to Portland, Oregon, to see the gastroenterologist who I had been seeing for over a year for changing bowel habits, weight loss and general not feeling well.
An EUS with biopsy was done. After inconclusive results, we were sent to a surgeon at Oregon Health Science Center who confirmed that, because the 30mm tumor was wrapped around arteries, it was inoperable. The pathologist diagnosed the adenocarcinoma tumor on head of pancreas.
At this point, I was doing a deep dive online looking for resources, talking to anyone who had pancreatic cancer. I found PanCan and talked to the John Hopkins nurse many times about trials, and on the advice of a friend and pancreas cancer survivor, saw a surgeon at the University of Indiana. I was advised to start chemo as soon as possible. So, we went back to Oregon to get a port put in place and started FOLFIRINOX every other week from a cancer infusion clinic starting July 5, 2018.
I had four months treatment with lots of side effects, so the doctor wanted to stop chemo and start radiation, saying I could live two more years. Not sounding right to me, I had a consult with SCCA Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, in a high volume pancreas treatment center in Seattle, Washington.
It was October and I was accepted for continuing FOLFIRINOX and began treatment two days later. We started our 3.5-5-hour every other-week-trek from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington. My treatments were easier and I tolerated the same chemo I was on in Portland with severe side effects. I believe the private spaces all patients had and my Dr encouraged me to sleep during treatment – so I slept, ate, read, prayed and walked through the day. The nurses were very attentive to the slightest side effect and treated it. Things were going much better.
Dr Borazanci, Lana Caldwell, pancreatic nurse navigator, and their staff all met us with positive spirits and competent treatment. I was kept on IV 5FU for about a year and then changed to oral 5 FU for about a year until the dose was reduced because of side effects and the tumor became active again. Dr. B. started up the IV 5FU again and added Omnivide (a liposomal irinotecan). Both these drugs are part of the FOLFIRINOX regimen and together are called Folfiri.
When I transferred my care to Dr Borazanci, I took a deep breath and felt that I was in very good hands. Since the beginning of my journey, I looked for ways to help my cancer treatment – ways that I could contribute to my healing. I was a professional nurse, so surely, I could help. I listened to many videos of patients and doctors who shared their experiences. I went to physical therapy, did acupuncture, had massages, guided meditation, read every story about radical remission (Dr Kelly Turner’s book Radical Hope) and had counseling. I try to stay out of fear and continue to be hopeful. I have more to learn.
As I write this. it’s been 3 years and 9 months since my diagnosis of stage 4 pancreas cancer.
I thank all the medical caregivers who have shared their expertise and treatments, the people who have prayed for me, my children who bring me much joy, and my very sweet husband who has been my constant support.