Apr 06, 2015 1:00 PM

Author: John Morris

The first part of my story is pretty typical. Friday, November 15, 2013, I learned the results of a “routine” CT scan. It showed a mass in my pancreas. Over the coming weeks I learned more; the tumor was not operable, both because it impinged on an important artery, but also because the cancer had metastasized to my abdominal lining. Surgery is the only “cure” for this cancer and surgery is not an option once cancer has spread. During those same weeks I learned some other things. I learned that my wife and kids were going to love and support and be with me no matter what.  I learned that I have more friends – real friends – than I ever imagined. And I learned that a medical system that I knew mostly from the outside was caring, responsive and very, very smart.

The second part of my story is, unfortunately, not typical. I am alive and feeling well 17 months after diagnosis. Only 10 percent of people with my diagnosis make it this far and many of them do not feel well. My heart aches for that 90 percent and their families and friends. I sometimes have a little guilt about living this long but mostly I feel incredibly fortunate, not just because I am alive, but because the last 17 months have been the richest and most rewarding of my life. We all know that we should put first things first, that we should take time for family, friends and our passions, that we should leave undone the busy work, that we should ignore or forgive the trivial insults, and that we should each day wholeheartedly commit again to these things. The ability to actually do these things is cancer’s greatest gift.

I knew early in this process that I had to be engaged, not just in my own health, but with this disease generally. Because the post-metastasis prognosis is so poor, it seemed obvious that early, pre-metastasis detection, detection early enough to permit surgery, is a way to improve survival. I learned that pancreas cancer research is heavily weighted in favor of development of new treatments. This is an understandable emphasis with 40,000 people in the United States alone dying every year from this disease and, in fact, developments over the last few years are very encouraging. Many of those efforts are well funded by government grants and industry. The same is not true for early detection research so my family, all of us, decided that we would commit to, in some small way, right this imbalance.

We adopted “skew right” as our banner. You can learn all about it at www.skewright.org and follow current developments @skewright. The short version is that to skew right means to survive longer, a key purpose of early detection. We want to spread the word about the importance of early detection.  We also want to raise money to support early detection research efforts at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. 100 percent of the funds we raise go directly to support this research.

None of this will benefit me in a narrow sense; I am way beyond early detection. But in a broader sense this effort requires me to be well and live longer. It is too important to not see it through. I hope others will join my family in this effort.

John Morris

John Morris is a guest blogger and the General Counsel for the University of Utah. Follow him on Twitter @SkewRight.

pancreatic cancer

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