Pancreatic cancer clinical trial gave wife and mom more time with family

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Diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in 2015, Julie found an HonorHealth clinical trial that extended her life. She was able to enjoy her daughter’s wedding and precious time with her family. Sadly, she passed away May 28, 2017, but Julie and her family wanted to offer help and hope to other cancer patients by continuing to tell her courageous story here.

Video transcript: Julie's pancreatic cancer story

Julie: Hi, I'm Julie, and my journey with pancreatic cancer started on Dec. 1, 2015. I was 54 years old.

I had been having back pain for quite a while. Literally, who doesn't have back pain? It took three appointments and (my doctor) ordered a CT scan. That's when they found it: stage 4 pancreatic cancer. I had a tumor the size of a baseball on the tail of my pancreas. It feels like you're walking along, and all of a sudden, there's a 500-foot cliff and you just fell off it. You literally are told you're going to die soon and here's what you're going to die from. And, good luck!

They immediately sent us to an oncologist in Albuquerque. The first thing she asked me was, 'Do you even want treatment?' Which, I about fell out of my chair. I mean I've got three healthy kids and I haven't become a grandmother yet, and so I have a lot of things in my life that I am looking forward to. So, we decided we wanted a second opinion and a third opinion. I wouldn't be sitting here if I hadn't come to HonorHealth. And I'll tell you what, they're doing miracles down here.

Erkut Borazanci, MD, medical oncologist at the HonorHealth Research Institute, Scottsdale, AZ: I met Julie two years ago; she heard about our center and came with her husband. And you could tell that from the very first meeting she had quite a spirit about her. When these cancers occur, they can be very subtle. We can have vague abdominal pain, back pain, weight loss, reflux disease.

We talked to her about what her options were for advanced pancreas cancer. What we had offered her was a clinical trial trial that was building upon the effectiveness of the combination of Nab-Paclitaxel and Gemcitabine. For that trial, for individuals with Stage 4 pancreas cancer, the response rate — meaning the cancer has shrunk by at least 30 percent or more, was 71 percent.

Gayle Jameson, nurse practitioner, HonorHealth Research Institute, Scottsdale, AZ: Julie had great courage and stamina. She tolerated the treatment well. She did have some side effects, but they were managed well. Her tumor did decrease, and she had a very good response to therapy.

Julie: They were having phenomenal results. And I was no different. The experience that I had at HonorHealth has been the most incredible experience. It's a total package there. They take care of you in every aspect. And the quality of your life is so, I would say, so high. I mean, I'm a terminally ill patient; how can I say that? But they make it happen at HonorHealth.

My husband and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. We went to California for the weekend, and I was just so blessed to be able to spend my 30th wedding anniversary with my husband. Our middle daughter ended up getting married in July. That was huge for me to be at her wedding. And not only did I go to the wedding, I danced at the wedding. If I hadn't come down here to HonorHealth, right now, I'm not sure that I would have been able to be a part of those family events.

Gayle Jameson: Julie's experience gave us great encouragement, along with many of our other patients on this trial, because we not only saw the disease respond to the treatment, we also saw their quality of life improve.

Dr. Borazanci: Thankfully, she's had a tremendous benefit. We hope to have more and more individuals try this regimen because of how effective it's been for Julie and other people in her situation.

Julie: So many people are dying and not getting the time – like the time I'm getting with my family, with my husband and my kids — because they don't know there's options out there.

So what I feel like is, I need to look for opportunities to pay it forward just like this. To get the word out about HonorHealth and what an incredible facility it is. And the staff – everybody from the front desk down.