Cancer hits people from helpless infants to those with money and power. Not only do we not know when it will hit - we don't know what will happen during the course of treatment.
And then there are the rumors, old wives tales, and just wrong information. So it isn't surprising that there's no clear story about the pancreatic cancer that has allegedly struck actor and dancer Patrick Swayze.
On one hand there are reports that he was diagnosed in January with pancreatic cancer at age 55 and three months later the cancer has spread to other organs, giving him mere weeks to live.
Other reports have him having completed 3 of 5 scheduled chemotherapy courses; resting at home after surgery; working on a cheerleading movie in Los Angeles; having lost 20 lbs; or perhaps something like 5 weeks from death. Rumor, inuendo, misleadeading statements or just confusion? It's not clear, though with cancer it seems things rarely are.
What does seem clear is that during February Swayze has been been undergoing what one source called "radical" chemotherapy at Stanford University’s prestigious cancer center.
If he does indeed have pancreatic cancer it's likely that it is an advanced form of the disease. Since the Pancreas is an organ which secretes enzymes throughout other organs it's not hard to understand why pancreatic cancer spreads rapidly and is seldom detected in its early stages, making it a major reason why it's a leading cause of cancer death.
Since symptoms do not develop until late in the disease process, the following are worth noting;
- Upper abdominal pain that may radiate to your middle or upper back.
- Loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss
- Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Digestive problems
But more important perhaps than knowing symptoms is support for funding research into the genetic traits and other issues that put one at risk for this and all cancers.
Patrick Swayze, like me, is not an obvious candidate for the cancer he is said to have developed. Although more men than women develop pancreatic cancer he's not the picture my research showed to be the prime candidate: A black, cigarette smoking chemical worker who carries around excess weight and eats an unhealthy diet.
Sadly though, the five week outlook is not totally unbelievable. The average life expectancy after diagnosis with metastatic pancreatic cancer (cancer that has spread beyond it's original site) is 3-6 months and more than half of pancreatic cancer patients have cancer that has already spread when diagnosed.
Pancreatic cancer is the 4th leading cause of cancer death in the United States and the 3rd leading cause of cancer death among 40-59 year old men. Whatever the case with Patrick Swayze's diagnosis, I wish him well and pray that some good results as this and other cases come to light and more attention is focused on the hard questions raised by any cancer diagnosis.