I was finally diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer in March
2008, more than a year and a half after I had first experienced
symptoms. I knew the outlook was not good and prepared to die.
But I did not give up hope completely, and when my daughter-in-law heard about a clinical trial for pancreatic cancer that was having
amazing results, I knew I wanted to give it a try. Within a month of
receiving the trial drug Abraxane (a nanoparticle form of paclitaxel) I
started feeling better.
I first experienced symptoms during the summer of 2006. I had
several episodes of severe pain under my ribs on my right side. To
me, as a physician, they seemed to be pretty typical gallbladder
attacks. But two workups found no issues with my gallbladder and
failed to identify a cause of my pain.
Later that year, I started experiencing pain in my lower
left abdomen. I underwent all sorts of tests, most of them
focused on my intestines. But one, a magnetic resonance
cholangiopancreatography (MRCP), did image my pancreas, which
looked normal. Because no one could come up with a better
diagnosis, I was treated with anti-inflammatories in case I had
inflammatory bowel disease.
The anti-inflammatories took away the pain, but I still didn’t feel
right. Then I started to lose weight and my energy went away.
By this time it was January 2008. I met with my family doctor, and
he said he would get to the bottom of things. I had a CT scan, and
there, in the tail of my pancreas, was what looked like a tumor
about four or five centimeters in size. An endoscopic biopsy, which
was performed at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, several weeks later
confirmed that it was pancreatic adenocarcinoma.
I was told that surgery was not an option because my cancer had
spread to some of my lymph nodes and my liver, and that if I was
lucky I might have one year left to live.
My daughter-in-law, who is a physician, was with us when I was
told of the grim prognosis. She mentioned that she had heard, just
days earlier, about a clinical trial that was going on at Scottsdale
Healthcare for patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer. She had
been told that the drug being tested, nanoparticle paclitaxel, was
having dramatic effects and suggested this as a possible treatment
for my cancer. As my endoscopic biopsy had been performed at
the Mayo Clinic, I began my journey with nanoparticle paclitaxel in
combination with a chemotherapy called gemcitabine (Gemzar), at
the Mayo Clinic.
Almost immediately I felt a better well being. I was also optimistic
that the treatment might add a few more years to my life. It has. It is
now five and half years since my diagnosis.
During that time, I have been treated with nanoparticle paclitaxel
on and off, mostly at the Mayo Clinic, but recently at Scottsdale,
Ariz Healthcare, under the direction of Dr. Daniel Von Hoff. I have
suffered from a variety of side effects that have meant that at times
I have had to stop treatment with the drug. But each time I have
restarted treatment, my cancer has responded. My pancreatic
tumors have never disappeared completely, but they always shrink
in size, and I feel as good as you can feel with pancreatic cancer.
The treatment I have received has been almost exclusively through
clinical trials, and I have received the best care that anyone could
have. But many doctors and members of the general public do not
know about the clinical trials that are going on. We need to do a
better job of educating people and getting them involved, because
we need more people and more studies if we are to help more
The successes of nanoparticle paclitaxel are spurring the
development of other anticancer nanodrugs, and it is clear that
this approach to drug delivery will become increasingly common
in the future.
Dr. Charles Haerter
Lake Havasu City, Ariz.
Living with Metastatic Pancreatic
Cancer Since 2008.