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MICHAEL FRANCIS: STORY OF A PANCREATIC CANCER SURVIVOR
“Everyone Must Become Their Own Health Care Advocate”
Written By Debra Gelbart
Diagnosed: November 2018
Status: No Sign of Active Cancer
Participating in A Clinical Trial Creating A Rosy Future
When Michael Francis’s world changed, he learned that everyone must become their own advocate for finding the best health care. “Finding an integrated health care team that can see beyond statistical survival averages can be key to getting the right care if you’re faced with a life-threatening condition,” he said.
In November 2018, Michael woke up three nights in a row after midnight feeling extremely nauseated. Then, on the fourth day, he got out of the shower and his wife noticed his skin had a lemon-yellow cast. So he went to his primary care physician who suspected he had a bile duct blockage. The doctor sent him to a hospital emergency department.
After being evaluated there, he was admitted as an inpatient and shortly after that, he was diagnosed at age 68 with Stage 3 pancreatic cancer that could not be treated surgically. “I was told the only treatment available to me was (a chemotherapy combination of) Gemzar (gemcitabine) with Abraxane (paclitaxel) and that the median survival for someone in my situation is three years. My wife and kids sure didn’t like hearing that and my daughter, an orthodontist, said, ‘There’s gotta be something else.’”
Michael is one of only six rosebush growers in America and estimates that he supplies businesses such as nurseries, home improvement warehouses and big-box discounters with 20 percent of all the rosebushes in the country. He loves what he does for a living and intends to continue to do it for a long time to come.
A great experience by a personal friend of the family who been treated for pancreatic cancer at the HonorHealth Research Institute inspired Michael, a resident of Phoenix, to connect with pancreatic cancer researchers at the Institute and the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center known for oncology and genomic cancer research.
“I realized these guys really care and the doctor who took my medical history told me he thought we can beat three years,” Michael said. “I was placed on a Phase II trial of three chemotherapy drugs (gemacitabine, paclitaxel and cisplatin) plus paricalcitrol (Vitamin D). But the important thing here is that without the Seena Magowitz Foundation donating money for Phase I of this trial, I would never have been able to get into the Phase II trial. Without that Phase II trial, I may not have been here today.”
Michael endured 18 weeks of chemotherapy and 33 days of radiation. He said his recent scans were good and his tumor marker was close to normal, down from 500 (under 37 is normal),” Michael said. “Every test showed no cancer activity.”
Connecting With The Seena Magowitz Foundation
Michael came to the attention of the Magowitz Foundation through the staff members at HonorHealth Research Institute. He decided to participate in a holiday costume contest hosted by the Research Institute staff. On Dec. 24, he dressed up head to toe as the Grinch from the Dr. Seuss classic and won the contest. “This is a really tough thing I’m dealing with, but you’ve got two choices,” Michael said. “You can either crawl up into a ball, go to a corner and die or you can have a good attitude about it and fight.I don’t choose to crawl up into a ball anywhere.”
The staff was so delighted by Michael’s attitude that with Michael’s permission, they alerted Roger Magowitz, founder of the Foundation in memory of his mother Seena who passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2001. Roger connected with Michael and invited him to attend the Foundation’s Annual Golf Classic fundraiser in November 2019. Michael delivered an impassioned speech to the assembled guests at the event’s dinner on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019.
“I sit here today because of the people at HonorHealth Research Institute and at the Seena Magowitz Foundation,” Michael said. “I thank you for that and the fact that you have given me time and hope,” he said to the attendees. “I could not be more appreciative of giving me greater time to watch my grandchildren grow up..”