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He Carried The Torch of Awareness

Written By Julia Brabant
November 2019

Originally Diagnosed in 2014, Phil Zeblisky Lost His Courageous Battle With Pancreatic Cancer in January, 2018.
While No One Can Predict When A Cure Will Arrive, One Thing Can Be Said With Certainty. Phil Had An Impact.

The one-time certified public accountant-turned tireless cancer research advocate first learned of his Stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis in May of 2014, following a failed Whipple procedure he had after a Stage 2 diagnosis. While most people who learn of this fate have an estimated six months left to live, Phil had far more to do in his fight against the disease than he could fit into that timeline.

Like many patients facing similar circumstances, Phil didn’t receive his diagnosis until his surgeon discovered that his cancer had progressed outside of the pancreas, at which point there is only so much modern medicine can do. Delayed diagnoses of pancreatic cancer are devastatingly common, and this is largely due to the fact that this particular form of cancer often fails to cause disease-specific symptoms until it has progressed past the pancreas and moved on to other areas of the body.

So, Phil’s doctors advised him to get his personal affairs in order, but he had something else in mind. He’d seek exploratory treatment from HonorHealth’s Dr. Daniel Von Hoff (known in some circles as “Dr. Von Hope”) and became part of a clinical trial that could not only help extend his own life, but potentially save countless others – and ultimately, he did just that.

The trial in which Phil participated, NCT01893801, required that he take a three-drug combination of Abraxane, Gemzar and Cisplatin, which had not yet received approval for use in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. After only six treatments, Phil’s tumor had stopped growing, and after 17 treatments, it was no longer detectable at all in CT, MRI or PET scans.

As it so often does, though, the disease returned within a few months, and Phil’s doctors at HonorHealth again began to treat it with the triple combination of drugs. After about four months of treatment, doctors again found no signs of active cancer remaining in his body, so he started a chemotherapy maintenance medication that proved effective until doctors saw signs of his cancer reemerging in 2016.

At this point, Phil’s doctors offered him a second chance at the curative Whipple Surgery. A complex surgical procedure that involves removing part of the pancreas as well as part of the bile duct, gall bladder and, in some cases, stomach, the Whipple procedure is rarely a treatment option for patients with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, because, as Phil put it, such treatment is typically palliative in nature.

The Whipple procedure proved successful, though, paving the way for Phil to spend another two years advocating, traveling, spending time with friends and family and otherwise making the most of his days. He was also able to celebrate his 35th anniversary with his wife, Kathy, and two more joyful anniversaries after that.

“Phil was all about living his life as normally as possible after his diagnosis,” Kathy said. “Of course, your ‘normal’ changes, but he was never going to let his diagnosis turn him into a cancer victim.” He was a warrior.

While Phil ultimately succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2018, he didn’t go without first giving his entire gallantry to the fight against the most brutal of cancers.

“Your outcome will be determined by how you approach the disease, not by how others who have gone before you have fared,” Phil once said, with his own approach to fighting the disease proving to be one of bravery, hope and dedication. He told others facing similar battles that they should always consider clinical trials, because, while they grant you access to cutting-edge treatment methods and medications that are otherwise unavailable, they also give you the opportunity to play a real, tangible role in the advancement

To help ensure that even more people battling pancreatic cancer have the resources, financial and otherwise, to participate in clinical trials, Phil’s wife launched “Phil’s Fund” in partnership with HonorHealth in 2019. While doing so helped her keep Phil’s legacy alive, it also helped eliminate some of the financial hurdles that prevent so many patients from pursuing exploratory care.

“We knew a clinical trial was the right move when we recognized that it presented the only real chance we had at prolonging Phil’s life,” Kathy said. “After a devastating diagnosis, it was the first time we truly felt hope.”

Editor’s Note:

Phl Zeblisky was the epitome of courage, hope, and positive outlook. Unfortunately, he earned his wings when he lost the battle to pancreatic cancer in January, 2018. Phil participated in 5 clinical trials. Through innovative treatments he defied the odds and lived about 4 years from diagnosis. He felt compelled to participate in clinical trials to give more medical discovery via clinical trial as gifts to patients that would follow him. Phil was one the most delightful, compassionate people you could ever meet. We miss him greatly.

This video was recorded in September, 2016.

Recorded Story Book by Phil and Kathy Zeblisky

This following recording was made on August 9, 2016 between Phil Zeblisky and his wife Kathy of 35 years before Phil passed away in 2018. The story book recording was a gift from Kathy to Phil on his 59th birthday. The story encapsulates their life together, and Phil’s journey with pancreatic cancer. The story length is about 34 minutes long. It is a very touching story of the love they shared together before Phil earned his wings.

Phil’s Fund At HonorHealth

Phil’s Fund helps to remove some of the financial barriers for persons with pancreatic cancer who are seeking additional opinions or participating in clinical trials at the HonorHealth Research Institute.

Phil’s Fund can help to offset the cost of:
• Transportation to appointments
• Daily living expenses
• Rent or lodging

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