2016 December 9

Some News Is Still Good News

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A calendar of 2016

Saw the oncologist yesterday, and the CT scan results are “as good as can be expected”—no sign of cancerous growth or spread. Of course if we entertain the unexpected, we could hope the cancer would actually be disappearing instead of holding steady. But it's too soon for the radioactive yttrium-90 particles to have accomplished much. Maybe by the next scan in a couple of months.

I continue to feel really good, to the surprise of my doctor a bit I think. He keeps expecting the toxicity buildup from chemo to start hitting me harder—say, with neuropathy (pins and needle tingling) in my fingers. At which point, he would cut back the chemo drugs further, possibly switching to pills instead of an IV drip.

In the previous post I noted that only 4 chemo treatments remained in this first line, but apparently that was never my oncologist's intention. “Some doctors will have the patient on chemo for 6 months, or 12 treatments, and then stop,” he said. “But I don't believe in that. I'll keep the treatments going as long as they're helpful.” As tedious as the treatments are, that's a good sentiment to hear from your oncologist.

Today, December 9, is 5 months since my diagnosis. Which wouldn't mean much except for a conversation we had shortly after getting that diagnosis. A very pleasant, elderly palliative care volunteer—a retired doctor—stopped by my hospital room to offer his support and help us try to understand and cope with this new reality. When the discussion turned to life expectancy, he very pleasantly informed us that statistically, survival time for stage 4 metastatized pancreatic cancer was 4 to 5 months.

So that's something.

I mentioned this to my oncologist, who said he would never have cited those numbers. He feels that with the recent improvements in treatment, 6 to 12 months is more accurate. Which is still a sobering outlook, but it's only the middle of the bell curve. There is a small but real percentage who live 5 years… or longer. And given the pace of medical breakthroughs—perhaps spurred by the Cancer Moonshot initiative—a few years may see even better treatments or a cure.

Nearly all of us know when we were born, but to none is given the hour of our death. Don't waste the time between.