Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer
In February 2011, Ken Baumheckel was experiencing pain in the area just above the lumbar curve in his spine. He tried treating it with lifestyle adjustments and over-the-counter analgesics. The pain persisted, so the following month he saw his primary health care provider, who ordered an x-ray. The x-ray revealed minor bone spurring, but nothing that should have caused such persistent, annoying pain.
After two months of seeing a chiropractor and an acupuncturist without getting relief, Ken returned to his nurse practitioner in early June and told her he now sometimes felt pain in his abdomen. She ordered an abdominal ultrasound, which revealed that Ken’s pain was caused by a tennis-ball sized pancreatic tumor and five growths in his liver. An endoscopic exam with biopsy confirmed that Ken had Stage IV pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to his liver.
Ken made an appointment with Dr. Robert Nagourney, after learning about his work from a friend in the health care system. During the initial consultation, Dr. Nagourney told Ken that his statistical survival rate was 10 to 30 percent and that he might not be alive in nine months. He also explained how Rational Therapeutics customizes cancer treatment by beginning with a chemosensitivity test, called an assay. They introduce a piece of one of the patient’s tumors to several chemicals to see which ones work best on that patient’s cancer. Even with the insights provided by this test, Ken was looking at a coin-flip chance of survival.
Fully understanding the seriousness of his prognosis, the following week Ken underwent a laparoscopic procedure to obtain a viable piece of one of his liver tumors for the Rational Therapeutics laboratory. The assay test revealed that his cancer was sensitive to three drugs. He received his first chemotherapy infusion the last week of June. Unfortunately, his pancreatic tumor was quite large, and its location near his small intestine meant that it was pinching off the intestine at the duodenum and preventing the flow of digesting food. Intestinal bypass surgery was required so that he would be able to eat. By August, Ken had lost 60 pounds but was eating and had resumed his infusions.
Ken completed six cycles of chemotherapy. His tumor marker (a protein in the blood revealing the cancer’s presence in the body) was 208 before starting treatment. By November, it had fallen to 44 and then in December, it was a normal read! A follow-up CAT showed that his tumors were gone, and in January 2012, Ken was switched to a lighter regimen to finish off any remaining cancerous cells.
So far, Ken has regained 35 of the 60 pounds he had initially lost, feels great, and is very glad he chose to have a chemosensitivity assay test before beginning his cancer treatment.