Read Time: 3 minutes
During a 1968 football game, University of Utah defensive lineman Jerry Simonson made a standout play on special teams, recovering a fumble in the endzone for a touchdown during a win over conference rival New Mexico.
“He was the only defensive lineman on the squad last year who managed to get into the scoring column,” the 1969 University of Utah Football Media Guide reads. “He has proven himself to be a fierce competitor with what most coaches would call ‘Heart.’”
Now 76, Jerry still embodies that spirit, and it is helping him stay positive through a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
“The thing about cancer is that it’s not like a sprained ankle. You can’t tough it out and be a hero.”
After shoulder surgery in 2017 and a subsequent infection, Jerry and his wife, Tad, noticed that his ordinarily high energy levels had plummeted. “I just felt terrible,” he says. Thanks in part to Tad’s advocacy, an emergency room doctor examined Jerry—and ultimately diagnosed him with pancreatic cancer. “My first comment was, ‘Oh, that’s the bad one,’” he recalls. Pancreatic cancer, though rare, is the third-leading cause of cancer death in the United States.
Jerry came to Huntsman Cancer Institute, where he began chemotherapy and had surgery to remove a tumor from his pancreas. His condition immediately improved. “I’d go to chemo and I could jump off the chair and go play basketball,” he says.
In 2022, Jerry’s cancer relapsed. His care team, led by Ignacio Garrido-Laguna, MD, PhD, MBA, enrolled him in a clinical trial. When the disease progressed, Dr. Garrido-Laguna helped Jerry enroll in a different clinical trial—a first-in-human study using a drug that targets KRASG12D, the most common genetic mutation in pancreatic cancer. Huntsman Cancer Institute is one of 13 locations nationwide to offer the trial.
Now, Jerry takes four pills every morning, and it has kept his cancer at bay with no side effects. “His is a beautiful story with a near-complete response to therapy, something we rarely see in pancreatic cancer,” Dr. Garrido-Laguna says. “It is a great example of successful precision medicine and will bring hope to a lot of patients with pancreatic cancer.”
Jerry’s ongoing treatment involves regular doctor visits and CT scans, but he still has plenty of time and energy to stay active and visit his three adult children and seven grandchildren. The retired teacher, administrator, and football coach plays racquetball twice a week and walks four to five miles daily. He’s grateful for Tad and his care team at Huntsman Cancer Institute.
“The thing about cancer is that it’s not like a sprained ankle. You can’t tough it out and be a hero,” the former football player says. “You have to rely on the doctors, do what they tell you to do, and hope that they’re on the right track—that it shows positive results. At this point, it has.”
He’s convinced research is the key to his stable condition.
“I’m still here,” says Jerry. “That’s the bottom line. With my last CT scan, they determined it was almost a complete response—almost no cancer. And I feel really good. You’ve got to credit that to research.”