Saturday May 18, 2013
Perseverance: Salem Woman Fights Deadliest Cancer from Multiple Treatment FrontsBy Pam McGaffin Special to Salem-News.com
The Salem woman and her family, including pharmacist husband, Kyle, refused to give up hope.
(SALEM, Ore.) - Patricia Elwood got the worst possible news after undergoing several different tests to find out why she was feeling pain in her upper abdomen.
Three of those tests failed to detect the "silent killer" growing in her body, but the fourth, an ultrasound, revealed a mass in her pancreas. She had cancer, and the prognosis was poor: Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all cancers. Fewer than 5 percent of patients in the U.S. live longer than five years, and many die within the first six months.
At 57, Elwood wasn’t ready to die. "I’m not done," she said, upon getting that devastating diagnosis just before Thanksgiving last year.
The Salem woman and her family, including pharmacist husband, Kyle, refused to give up hope. Their research and questions led them to Dr. Ben Chue, an oncologist at Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center.
Dr. Chue is testing a new treatment protocol for pancreatic cancer that involves "metronomic dosing", or smaller, more frequent doses of chemotherapy drugs. The treatment cuts off the cancer’s blood supply while delivering more chemicals to the tumor over time. Smaller dosing also means fewer side effects, increasing the likelihood that the patient will stay healthy enough to complete chemotherapy.
Chue says his pancreatic patients are living much longer than expected. One, Aaron Barrett, had been close to death when he came to the clinic on a stretcher and is now back home and working more than three years later.
On Dec. 19th 2006, about a month after she was diagnosed, Elwood had her first appointment with Dr. Chue. She completed the clinical trial in June and is continuing treatment, traveling weekly from Salem to Seattle.
In addition to chemotherapy, she gets dietary guidance, acupuncture and counseling at the Capitol Hill clinic, an affiliate of Cancer Treatment Centers of America. The center’s integrated approach to cancer care has medical oncologists working side-by-side with naturopathic doctors, practitioners of Chinese medicine and acupuncture, and mind-body social workers.
"I just felt like I wanted to fight in every direction I could," Elwood said of her decision to combine several different therapies.
"Patricia is one of those patients who really does use every tool possible,” said her naturopathic oncologist, Dr. Heidi Lucas. “She’s really dedicated, has an incredible sense of humor and encourages communication within her family and with all her providers."
More than a year after her diagnosis, Elwood’s tumor has shrunk to a small fraction of its original size and she feels well enough to take walks, do household chores and put in a few hours on two part-time jobs.
"My primary care doctor is absolutely amazed," she said.
Her advice to others facing cancer, even usually fatal forms, is to persevere. That’s what she tells the other pancreatic cancer patients at the clinic when they’re feeling discouraged.
She and her "peers" have become an informal support group as they receive chemo together in a clinic treatment room they’ve dubbed the "tiki bar". They cheer each other on and talk about "things that other people wouldn’t understand," said Elwood. "It’s like a hair salon, except you have these chemotherapy poles instead of dryers."
The clinic’s nurses and reception staff add to camaraderie, she said. "When you walk off the elevator into the lobby, you get a welcoming, like you’ve come home."
Elwood also feels fortunate to have a strong network of support outside the clinic, including a close friend who has been there for her "day and night"; a sister in Seattle who gives her a place to stay and comes along on appointments; and her 79-year-old mother who traveled back and forth with her on the train during the first six months of her treatment.
Now she’s hopeful that her cancer will shrink to a point where it’s operable and that she can one day call herself a survivor. She wants to do her part to promote pancreatic cancer awareness and go back, as much as possible, to her life before the disease took over.
That means working, exercising with friends and looking ahead to the future. "I want to spend a long life watching my family go through the normal phases," she said. "I want to go to weddings, hold my grandchildren and grow old with my husband."
Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center is an affiliate of Cancer Treatment Centers of America, a network of hospitals that integrate oncology with complementary and natural therapies. For more information and cancer-fighting tips, call (206) FOR HOPE (367-4673) or visit seattlecancerwellness.com.
Pam McGaffin of Moore Ink. PR, writes articles about important health, family and community issues for non-profit organizations.
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