Saturday, August 24, 2013

Facing Pancreatic Cancer by Matthew Loeb

Anne Nides Loeb
She had it. That magnetism that attracted family members and friends. My aunts and uncles teasingly referred to her as the “Dean.” The rock would be more fitting. Just ask her three boys.
 She also had it.  It being a slow-growing tumor that metastasized into her lymph nodes. Mom gamely staved off pancreatic cancer for 11 months. She mustered every ounce of steely resolve.  Two Whipple procedures, chemo regimens, a medicine chest of pills. But the tumor was relentless. For every breakthrough, there would be a setback. Our options dwindled. We buoyed her spirits—regaling her with family anecdotes. And Mom disarmed the nurses with her wit. “No one has ever told me to eat more,” she cracked to a nurse and me. But Mom, nobody’s fool, knew the daunting odds facing her.
 I was home when Mom called me that fateful morning. She had just played tennis so I expected the usual commentary about her forehand rivaling mine. But her ominous tone suggested something more foreboding. “Matthew, you need to come down to Methodist.” “Why? What’s going on?”  I asked. “I don’t know but the doctors are performing some tests. Just come down,” Mom responded—uneasiness seeping into her voice. I hustled down and, almost immediately, trepidation crept in. The somber doctors, the hospital room sterility, Dad’s crestfallen look.

Our worst fears were confirmed. Until October 26, 2011, I had never heard of pancreatic cancer. I pity the poor doctor I cornered and barraged with one redundant question after another.
 I soon learned pancreatic cancer’s brutality is rivaled only by its swiftness. From its onset, the average life expectancy is six months. The five-year survival rate is six percent. And it strikes without any forewarning.  One doctor speculated that Mom’s tumor had been festering for 20 years. I gasped. Mom—our family’s matriarch and a community pillar—had been harboring the deadliest type of cancer for two decades.
 Out of the top ten cancer killers, pancreatic cancer is the only one with a five-year survival rate in the single digits. Despite its morbidity, pancreatic cancer remains woefully underfunded. You can imagine my incredulity when I discovered that grant funding for pancreatic cancer research had decreased by 15 percent from 2008 to 2009. Here’s the juxtaposition: Leading experts predict that pancreatic cancer will be the second leading cause of cancer deaths by 2020. We must redress these funding inequities. 
Pancreatic cancer may have taken Mom’s life but it didn’t sap her will. Our family marveled at her perseverance. After two aborted Whipple procedures, Mom pressed on with unflinching stoicism. She was scared—as any of us would be—but embraced the chemo regimens and clinical trials with her trademark vigor. If the doctor asked her to walk 12 laps, she insisted on 13.  On those early morning walks, she bantered with the docs, quizzed the nurses about their kids, and teased me—good-naturedly—about my languid demeanor. “Matthew, I can always find a new walking partner if you can’t keep up with your 61-year old mother,” she chortled. Let’s match Mom’s can-do spirit. 
Please visit to find out how we can stifle this insidious disease. The “Dean” deserves nothing less.
Written by Matthew Loeb in honor of his mother and my friend, Anne, who passed away on Yom Kippur Day last year.