How my fight with cancer gave me hope, a miracle and a better appreciation for life - by John Roberts.
This is just a brief overview of how my life forever changed in one year back in 2008. I have included it here in the hope that it may provide some inspiration to anyone in need. This whole experience started while I was training. And I continued training throughout everything, so I thought it appropriate to post this on the portal for those students who chose to read it.
As many of you know, nothing brings about change faster than a traumatic event. My event, or “journey” as I call it, started and ended in San Francisco, a city would come to know very well. Because of this San Francisco represents so much more than just a beautiful city with its bridges, hills, parks, wharfs, and China Town. I know it as a city of hope and miracles. I had often heard people claim to experience some type of unexplainable miracle. I never thought that would come to be my testimony in life.
I view myself as just an average person, definitely no better than anyone else. And certainly undeserving of any special treatment from the Almighty. Perhaps that I why this happened to me, to illustrate the point of who is in control of our lives, and who should get the praise when wonderful things happen.
It was Monday, December 8, 2008, and I was in a conference room at the Holiday Inn at Fisherman’s Wharf teaching a course on Software Configuration Management. It was a small but very interest class. The CM Manager for the National Ignition Facility at Livermore Labs was in attendance. The students bonded early, and even went out at night together. Great class, but I started to feel very ill. I have taught over 900 courses, and experienced almost anything you could think of, but never cancelled a class due to a medical condition. But this was getting very serious.
My symptoms started with just a very bad case of itchy skin. This was followed with extreme nausea and jaundice. I thought it was caused by the dry winter air. I completed the lecture, went home, and the symptoms got worse over the next few weeks.
I went to an Immediate Care for a checkup. After several weeks of getting nowhere I went in for an ultra sound. The technician was Australian. I am so thankful for her advice. She informed me that my situation appeared very serious and that I should not waist any more time and get right over to the Emergency Room. That would allow me to get Cat Scans and an MRI immediately. We did not wait for the results, but took her recommendation and went right over to Enloe, the hospital in our home town of Chico.
I was admitted, scans taken, and the reports came back with very little. Which goes to show you that you can’t always trust some doctors to do their job. The radiologist must have been either blind or not paid much attention, because I would later discover that I have many tumors over 3 centimeters in the exact area they suspected. Report said liver fine, some dilated ducts.
Thanks to a great gastroenterologists, Dr. De Tan, he suspected a tumor, and wanted to pursue it further. I underwent an ERCP, and his suspicions were confirmed. After cancer is found you must go to another doctor for “staging” who recommends the appropriate method of treatment.
My cancer was staged by the well-known Dr. Bin Moeller in San Francisco, and the diagnoses was not good, and very shocking. Thinking I only had one tumor, and perhaps not malignant, I went under thinking I could wake up and it could all be over. That is even what the assisting doctor suggested. But such was not the case. I woke to hear the report, Stage 4 cancer with “innumerable” tumors in my liver, and suspected lymph node and pulmonary issues as well. Bin Moeller’s recommendation, I needed systemic treatment, chemo.
Ampullary cancer is very rare. It starts in the Ampulla Vader and extends into the Pancreas, with “mets” typically to the liver. The news was full of reports of the actor Patrick Swayze and his fight with Pancreatic cancer. Ampullary at stage 4 is treated much like Pancreatic, and has about the same prognoses.
So in a few short months I went from itchy skin to “you are going to die within a year and there is nothing anyone can do for you,” as my first doctor so bluntly put it. Well, I didn’t die. I never gave up hope, I entered a clinical trial at UCSF. Six months later my cancer was gone. In most cases it will return within 60 days. After five years of CAT scans, and a final ERCP so Dr. Tan could see with his own eyes and take pictures, I was declared cured by my oncologist Dr. Andrew Ko.
I learned many things from this experience. You must be your own advocate, and you need someone to help you. My wife Tracie did everything for me. Never give up. Seek out the best doctors. If you don’t like what a doctor is telling you seek out a second and third opinion. You might not have the time to wait for an opening to see the right doctor. The good ones are all booked up. Schedule one anyways, then call every day to see if someone has cancelled so you can get in right away. Chemo does not deserve the bad rep it gets, without it I would not be alive. Everyone should get a blood test called a CA-19-9. It will tell you if you have certain tumor activity. A number below 30 is normal. Mine started at 65, went up to 2108 by the time I started treatment.
The most important thing that I learned is that life is a wonderful gift that should not be abused or wasted or taken for granted. Every day you get out of bed is a great day. Prayer sustained me, and my faith helped me accept whatever outcome was in my future. Not preaching, just saying, I don’t think there is a God, I know there is a God. I am living proof that He hears us and can work miracles if we ask and it is in His will. Check out the survival rates on Stage 4 Ampullary cancer and you will understand what I mean.
In the coming months I will post a more detailed account of this whole experience and perhaps it will help some of you going through something similar.
I would like to close this for now with a great poem that has inspired so many. Originally called “The Paradoxical Commandments,” by Dr. Kent M. Keith, this version was found written on the wall in Mother Teresa’s home for children in Calcutta: