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Mitchell Freiberg: Pancreatic Cancer Warrior

Self Written By Mitchell Freiberg
March 14, 2022

Diagnosed: December 10, 2020
Current Status: Disease free. No sign of cancer

At  62 years young, I had always led an active and healthy life and never expected the journey that lied ahead.

My family history is heart disease and diabetes.

Considering that family history, I adhered to a healthy lifestyle including being  physically active and adapting proper diet to protect myself against developing heart issues. In 2019, I went from being on the highest dosage for cholesterol and triglycerides, to not needing any medication at all.

In 2020, I was struck by the dreaded Covid.

The subsequent pandemic not only  further compelled myself and my family to sustain and even adapt a healthier to  healthy lifestyle and to practice safer methods to avoid further issues with Covid.

My daughters, who were about to graduate with their under-graduate degree and master’s degree, had their universities closed, so they moved back in with my wife and I. We all had a lot of free time, and I never felt better. I was swimming every day and running 3-4 miles as well.

Yet i subsequently had abdominal and back pain.

I complained about that pain with my family doctor at the end of 2019. He felt the abdomen and back pain were 2 separate issues, and he wanted to focus on one at a time. I was sent for an ultrasound and CT scan of the abdomen, and they were clear.

He also sent me for a blood test, and my ALT, AST and Alkaline Phosphatase were slightly high. At his suggestion, I followed up with a GI, who dismissed it, as the numbers were only 5% above the safe range. I then was sent for x-rays for the back, and I was sent for physical therapy and chiropractic services.

The pain continued and I went back to my doctor, but I managed to live with the pain.

As the year went by, my clothes felt loose, and I assumed I was losing weight from increased exercise. In November I went for a blood test, and this time the ALT, AST and Alkaline Phosphatase were through the roof. They were all over 20 times higher versus the same test 6 months earlier.

I immediately went back to my primary doctor, and he put everything on the fast track.

He sent me for the same 2 abdomen tests I had at the end of the previous year. He was also mentioned that I lost 35 pounds and I looked jaundiced. On 12/10/2020, I heard the words I’ll never forget. I was told I had pancreatic cancer.

I worked so hard to be healthy, and I couldn’t believe I had cancer. This happy and healthy person now felt anger and why me. And of course, the more I read about pancreatic cancer and life expectancy, the more anger and afraid I felt. I’ll always wonder if I had stage 1 pancreatic cancer when I first complained about the abdomen and back pain i had one year previously, but nothing was visible on the CT during that time.

I knew I only had one option, and that was to stand up and deal with this monster.

Within 4-5 weeks of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I had 2 endoscopies and my port put installed. I also met and interviewed 2 oncologists and 2 surgeons, and ultimately selected Dr. Arun Nagarajan as my oncologist and Dr. Myank Roy as my surgeon.  Both worked with The Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Florida.
I then started my treatment, which was 9 rounds of chemotherapy and 28 rounds of radiation. Upon completion of the radiation, I had blood work and CT scan, and my medical team told me I was ready for The Whipple Procedure.
Unfortunately, after 3-4 hours into the Whipple surgery, Dr. Roy found extensive fibrosis encasing the tumor and the portal vein caused by the radiation therapy.  The surgeon aborted The Whipple and instead decided to perform a double bypass (biliary and gastric bypass) in the form of an hepaticojejunostomy and gastrojejunostomy.

It has been 4 months since the procedures, and I am beginning to get my energy back and my life back. I am gaining weight and eating healthy.

I am very grateful to all my family and friends for the love and support they gave me. I am also very grateful for the pancreatic pages on Facebook, where I was able to speak with people in the same situations. But most important, I was very fortunate to have a great medical team at The Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Florida.

Although I continue with a regular surveillance schedule including blood tests and CT scans, I am happy to report that I am now disease-free and thankfully without need for chemotherapy.

If there is anything I would like to share with others beginning this journey…..”be your own healthcare advocate and do not take no for an answer”. And find a medical team that you feel confident with.

I have since met a few pancreatic cancer survivors who gave me hope on my darkest days. I hope to do the same for newly diagnosed patients beginning this journey.

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