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Survivor Story: Clinical Trial Participant - Richard Blish

08/27/2012
My name is Richard Blish, a three year survivor so far (no clouds on the horizon). I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August 2009 (age 67 then) and crushed to read its prognosis on the web. �My daughter Catherine, who has an MD plus a PhD in Immunology, then doing AIDS research, was even more appalled at the prospects, so she spent a week researching what my best path should be. �We didn�t know that PALS existed at that time. �As the prognosis was so poor (mortality in 3-6 months), we were in a BIG hurry to select a treatment option and get started. �One complicating factor was that a young doctor, who installed a stent for bile to bypass the tumor, provided an erroneous input that was rectified by a senior doctor. �I was erroneously told my small (Stage 1A) tumor was not resectable, i.e. surgery would not be an option. �The lesson here is a familiar one: get a second opinion!
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My daughter�s research suggested that there are top volume centers for pancreatic cancer in Seattle. �As my daughter was living in Seattle, the physical path decision was easy�move in with my daughter and her two small therapy machines, the granddaughters. �
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As an aside�why did I mention statistics? �I have a PhD in Materials Science and worked in semiconductor reliability for more than 40 years. �I also had a history of high blood pressure, so many years ago I created a spreadsheet to capture such details as blood pressure, weight and exercise statistics on a daily basis. �Armed with these data, I can pinpoint the date at which pancreatic cancer started! �This date was about 6 months before diagnosis, so if I had been watching the trends more vigilantly, perhaps I would have had more warning. �The �signal� was that starting in February my average output on the bike was consistently declining. �The crash came in August, when I lost weight, appetite, stool turned loose and blonde and finally I was jaundiced. �Clearly the lesson is to pay attention to what your body is telling you!
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When my wife Sue and I reached Seattle, we selected a Phase II clinical trial at a leading treatment center for pancreatic cancer. �I was extremely impressed with the statistics and the mortality prospects for a course of chemo, followed by radiation, Whipple surgery and more chemo. �The entire process was successful. �Contributing factors were the protocol was good, my attitude was that treatment would be successful and family support was outstanding. �In fact, using chemo and radiation had two great benefits: any undetectable remote metastasis sites were killed and the main tumor size was reduced, providing more margin for Whipple surgery. �Later there were a couple false positives (PET scans) after the intensive year-long treatment, but all came out well.
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It is interesting to note how I decided to become active in the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. �A six year pancreatic cancer survivor wrote a cogent letter to the San Jose Mercury News pleading for more research funding. �I tracked her down, finding her to be a local coordinator for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. �I decided that my volunteer focus would be to make sure doctors and hospitals knew the (free) resources the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network can bring to bear for patient benefit.
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So the bottom line is that pancreatic cancer can be beaten, particularly if you avail yourself of PALS and consider enrolling in a clinical trial.



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