Fighting the Good Fight: Pancreatic cancer

By: Nicole Holt Email
By: Nicole Holt Email

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. More than 32,000 people in this country learn they have pancreatic cancer every year. This year, a Duncan Oklahoma, man was one of them. With the help of specialist, he’s fighting and winning his battle against cancer. Now he hopes to help others learn how to better protect themselves from this deadly cancer.

For Jim and Mary Jayne Edwards, the past 8 months have been a blur. It started when Jim’s routine physical turned up something far from routine. The blood work wasn’t quite right. More blood tests and then a cat scan revealed the cause, a tumor the size of a golf ball in his pancreas. “It was pressing against the artery that goes to your liver and that’s the only way we found it. If it had been a little further over, they may not have found it until it was too late.”

Jim was refereed to OU Physicians cancer specialists. Three days later, Dr. Russell Postier operated to remove the tumor. Postier says early diagnosis is critical with pancreatic cancer, but difficult because the disease can be present without symptoms in the early stages; and even when the symptoms are present, they can be subtle or mistaken for other illnesses.

Dr. Russell Postier says, “It tends not to cause symptoms until the pancreatic duct or the bile duct is blocked and then the symptoms, if it’s only the pancreatic duct and not the bile duct, symptoms are vague, upper abdominal pains that radiate to the back. If the bile duct is blocked, then they get yellow. They become jaundiced.”

Unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, and fatigue are among the subtle warning signs for pancreatic cancer. Without early diagnosis, the prognosis can be bleak, and there is currently no blood test to help screen for this potentially deadly cancer.

Dr. Postier says, “The hope is that there are patterns in protein in the serum in patients with pancreatic cancer that are different than in people of the same age and sex who don’t have pancreatic cancer.”

Until blood test is in place, routine physicals remain one of the best defenses against the cancer. Jim says he’s glad his wife and children convinced him to start having those yearly checks.

“We’ve never asked, we’ve never asked God why did this happen to us. We think there’s a reason for it. If we can just emphasis how important a yearly physical is for both men and women and if it saves some lives, then maybe that’s why we are still here.”

Jim’s surgery, radiation and now several rounds of chemotherapy have all gone well; his prognosis is good and outlook bright.

There are some factors that put you at a greater risk for developing pancreatic cancer. These include: cigarette smoking, long-standing diabetes, aging, and a family history of pancreatic cancer or inflammation of the pancreas.

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