Pancreas Cancer Survivor
Leon Sherlock has had a good life, complete with a successful career as an aircraft mechanic that afforded him a beautiful home of over 50 years and a hobby of restoring antique cars, which he has shared with his supportive wife, Gladys, and his loving children and grandchildren.
But Leon has had more than his share of health concerns, too. He had a five-way heart bypass many years ago, and has seen plenty of doctors for nearly a decade of stomach troubles. His hip started bothering him in his early 70s, as hips will tend to do. So in the spring of 2009, he decided to take the big step and have his hip replaced. He had his surgery scheduled for the first Monday in March. But the Friday before surgery, all of those plans changed when Leon was overcome by the worst pain he’s ever experienced.
“Thank goodness my son was at home,” says Gladys. “Leon was writhing in pain on the floor!”
Since Leon’s records were all at University of Washington Medical Center, where he was to have his hip surgery in just two days, Gladys and her son took Leon to the emergency room there. In the ER, a CT scan was performed and the doctor reported seeing a shadow on Leon’s pancreas. Leon was admitted to UW Medical Center and it was soon determined that a tumor on Leon’s pancreas had burst.
“Leon spent a week at UWMC and was on lots of medications to heal the infection,” Gladys says. March 4 was Leon’s 76th birthday, and despite feeling “pretty bad,” he enjoyed the impromptu party that Gladys threw for him in his hospital room—10 to 15 people all crammed in to wish Leon a happy birthday.
“They met with us together,” Leon says. “They were a great team. I never felt like they were in a hurry. They took their time with me, which I really appreciated,” Leon says.
Leon had surgery on April 2, 2009. “We got there at 5 a.m.,” Gladys says. “At 7 a.m. he went into surgery. Dr. Park spent the entire day with Leon in surgery and was finally able to come out to talk to us at 7 p.m. that night. He drew pictures and diagrams to explain what had happened in surgery. He was amazing.”
Dr. Park had removed 75 percent of Leon’s pancreas, 50 percent of his stomach, and all of his spleen. The tumor that he removed was huge and had likely been growing for the last 10 to 15 years, Leon says. It may have been the cause of all his previous stomach aches, too.
“When Leon was in the hospital, Dr. Park came in every day to see him,” Gladys says. And when Leon was ready to be discharged six days later, Dr. Park was there with his family on a Saturday to see Leon and sign his discharge papers.
“It was a fight coming home,” Leon says, explaining that it was difficult to eat, move, and sleep. “Recovery was really hard,” he says. Looking back, Leon says the surgery and recovery was worse than the chemotherapy and radiation he got later.
It was June 2009 when Leon began chemotherapy. He received four out of five treatments before Dr. Hingorani discontinued treatment because it was causing Leon’s joints to stiffen up.
“I was never sick from the chemotherapy,” Leon says, “and I never lost any hair.”
After his stiff joints cleared up, Leon was ready for radiation treatment.
The doctors weren’t completely convinced that Leon should have radiation therapy, considering this trouble he’d had with chemotherapy. But, Leon was told that having radiation could add a few years to his life. So Leon opted to have radiation therapy. Around September, he began a five-day-a-week radiation treatment regimen with Dr. Wui-Jin Koh, Medical Director for Radiation Oncology at SCCA.
Leon had four weeks of radiation and was doing very well. Dr. Koh even said as much and told him they’d start localized radiation the next week to target the pancreatic duct. But in what might be considered a form of déjà vu, Leon became very ill before the next round of radiation was to start. Leon went to the ER that night and was hospitalized for ten days and was released on December 23, just in time to spend Christmas at home.
The best part of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance is the team work Leon says. “They all work together like clockwork. The PA could call Dr. Hingorani any time and he’d talk to her.”
Leon and Gladys were especially impressed with Dr. Hingorani’s nurse practitioner Charlie Pieterick, who they believe took great, close care of Leon. “He’d even call me at home,” Leon says. “He was the one who noticed that my whole body was swelling from the chemotherapy.”
Leon also sees Pamela Davies who works with him to manage his pain. And when Leon runs into smaller troubles, Gladys now takes him to the UW Medicine Neighborhood clinic near their home, which has proven to be very convenient.
No Evidence of Cancer
Since January 2010, Leon has been feeling pretty good. He’s no longer receiving treatment and Dr. Hingorani has told him that there is no evidence of cancer in his body, but Leon knows that’s hard to really say, since microscopic cells can hide anywhere in your body. Leon has developed a couple of hernias, which are not very comfortable to live with, but he and Dr. Park are putting off surgery for as long as possible, in case his cancer does come back and Dr. Park needs to remove it. Leon wears a special girdle, which seems to help.
“What I have is nothing now,” Leon says. “I shouldn’t even be alive except for the time and talents of the people taking care of me at SCCA.”
Although working on his old cars isn’t really possible these days because of his hernias, Leon and Gladys like to get out and go for drives and walks, and go to church and have friends and family over to visit. He is careful not to lift anything heavy, too.
“If it wasn’t for Gladys, I don’t know where I’d be now,” Leon says, looking back at the last year. “It’s actually been good for our marriage. We’re more patient with each other and it’s strengthened our relationship.”
Leon says it’s important for people who have pancreas cancer to not be afraid of treatment. “Just attack it,” he says.