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The Original Prognosis Was About Six Months To Live
Written By Debra Gelbart
Diagnosed: February 2019
Status: No Signs of Active Cancer
Given New Hope By The HonorHealth Research Institute
Vicki Tunnell knows firsthand why it’s critically important never to accept a dire prognosis in the face of devastating medical news.
In February 2019, out of the blue, with no symptoms, she was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. She had survived breast cancer for 11 years before going to oncologist to get released from future check-ups for breast cancer. Her oncologist told her she didn’t like her blood work—that her tumor marker had gone up. Vicki then underwent two PET scans and a CT scan, which revealed the new pancreatic cancer. Initially her oncologist suggested Vicki call hospice. “You have about six months to live,” the doctor told Vicki. But then, the doctor pointed out the window in the exam room to the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center and HonorHealth Research Institute, located right across the street in Scottsdale, Arizona “They are doing some clinical trials, however over there that my benefit her,” the oncologist said.
Clinical Trial Brings New Chemotherapy Regimen With Impressive Results
Vicki contacted the HonorHealth Research Institute the next day and by March 5 of 2019, she had begun a chemotherapy regimen of Gemzar (gemcitabine), Abraxane (paclittaxel), cisplatin and Ascorbic Acid (vitamin c).
She went through eight months of the regimen—24 treatments. Her scan in November 2019 showed no active cancer. Now, she is taking a twice-daily oral maintenance medication called capecitabine (brand name Xeloda).
Initially when she first connected with HonorHealth, she was reluctant to go through more chemo because she had been through that when she had breast cancer. But she said two nurses at HonorHealth Research Institute—research nurse Danielle LeGrand, R.N., and nurse practitioner Courtney Snyder, N.P.—patiently explained what would happen and answered all of Vicki’s questions. Vicki then made the decision to undergo chemotherapy again. The only side effect she said that has endured is fatigue.
Connecting With Seena Magowitz Foundation
Just days after finishing the chemo regimen, Vicki, a retired middle-school reading teacher and librarian, was energetic enough to attend the Seena Magowitz Foundation’s Annual Golf Classic in Phoenix Nov. 1-3, 2019. “We went to the ‘Dan’s Diamonds’ talk about medical advancements in the field (led by the world’s leading pancreatic cancer researcher, Daniel Von Hoff, M.D.) and it was so nice to see the friends I’ve made at the clinic,” Vicki said. “The event was held in a beautiful place (the Arizona Biltmore Resort).”
A Future in Her Future
Now, with the encouragement of the oncologist who has managed her treatment for pancreatic cancer, Erkut Borazanci, M.D., Vicki is looking forward to more time with her family and friends.
“I’m so happy I found this place,” Vicki said, referring to the HonorHealth Research Institute. “Before I connected with HonorHealth, I had little hope of finding a treatment that could help my chances of survival.”
But now, she said, “I’m so grateful to these nurses who are so incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. They’re always right there listening to you and answering your questions. I’ve told them along with Dr. Borazanci that they really saved my life. It’s the time they all spend with you and the friendliness, from the time you walk in the door to the time each appointment is over that I especially appreciate. This place offers you hope when you feel like there was none.
I’m so grateful for the time I have left and so grateful to have connected with the HonorHealth Research Institute.”