Last month, Alex Trebek announced he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He posted an upbeat message on his YouTube account saying he will fight it and keep working and with the support of his family and friends and prayers, he plans to beat the low survival rate of the disease. Indeed, if you look up pancreatic cancer, it has a depressing statistics of just 9% 5 year survival for all stages. Pancreatic cancer claimed my father’s life a month after his 70th birthday. From the time of his diagnosis to his death was 8 weeks. Cancer pain hurts, but pancreatic cancer pain is infamous. The last 2 months of his life, my father was in writhing pain 27/7. No pain medicine helped either and if anything helped him, it was medical marijuana that helped him sleep and gave him some dignity. (He lived in California and it was legal for medical use back then). More about this in another letter. Pancreas is deep inside the body, making it difficult to find cancer early. Early tumors can’t be seen or detected easily and this is why often it is discovered in late stages. By the time of discovery, my father’s cancer had spread to liver, colon, parts of his lungs and kidneys. It really was too late. Looking back, my father had all the risk factors. He started smoking when he was a teenager and could never quit. Smoking significantly increases one’s chance of developing pancreatic cancer. He was overweight, and he painted houses most of his life so he was exposed to paint chemicals. He also had an older brother who died of pancreatic cancer so it’s likely that he had the gene as well. With so many of the risk factors, topped with heavy drinking, it’s a wonder he made it to 70, enjoying good health most of his life.
For reasons unknown, one of the early signs of pancreatic cancer is depression about 2-3 years before their diagnosis. This certainly was the case with my father, and I didn’t understand why he would tear up and cry every time we talked on the phone. I just thought perhaps he missed me and he’s getting older and softer. I think I took my time to cry and grieve his death but still now I am haunted by how much he suffered. His liver started to fail and the toxins accumulating in his body and memory deteriorating, he still remembered who I was until the day before he died. In the end, death was kind and he looked peaceful and with much of his weight lost, looked almost like a young man he once.