J. Peter M.

Pancreatic Cancer - Stage 3

Johnnie Mock

Rather than a burden, cancer was an event that provided me with insights that I could share with others, to help them through their difficult times. Because it is connected to my restored sense of faith, sharing those insights feels like part of my life’s purpose.

This testimonial includes a description of this patient’s actual medical results. Those results may not be typical or expected for the particular disease type described in this testimonial. You should not expect to experience these results. 

My story begins in 2009, a few years before I was diagnosed with cancer. I weighed 260 pounds and was not in good health. At one point, I was taking about 10 different medications to keep my blood pressure under control. Eventually, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The medication I was prescribed upon receiving this diagnosis made me extremely dizzy and uncomfortable. When my doctor explained that my options were to take the medicine or get healthy, I finally decided to become responsible for my health. I changed my diet, ate healthy portion sizes, and exercised five or six days out of each week. Two years later, I was down to 190 pounds; my formerly 48-inch waist was now at 34.

But even though I was in the best physical shape I’d ever been in, I was still not well. I had stomach pain, mostly in the form of cramps. Antacids provided temporary relief but the pain returned and soon worsened. Medications prescribed by my doctor did not help. He recommended that I undergo some tests at the local hospital.

An ultrasound ruled out gallstones, but another scan, called HIDA, showed that my gallbladder was working at just over 25 percent of its capacity, far lower than the 36 percent considered to be the low end of normal. The physician recommended gallbladder removal and referred me to a local surgeon.

The surgeon wasn’t so sure about the diagnosis. My symptoms weren’t “textbook” signs for removal and he didn’t think my gallbladder was the source of the problem. However, I had the operation and the pain went away completely.

Although I should have felt relieved, I still felt awful. The pain was replaced by an inability to eat and keep food in me. During the following six months, I lost another 60 pounds. I stopped exercising because I had no strength and felt like I was becoming weaker with each passing day. A CT scan during my previous round of pain had shown a growth on my left kidney, and now my doctor referred me to a urologist for further examination. A needle biopsy was impossible for that location, so the urologist said he would check the growth again in six months.

Six months later, the lesion had grown half a centimeter. A PET scan revealed it to be a benign cyst, but that scan also showed enlarged lymph nodes around my pancreas. The urologist referred me to a cancer specialist for immediate testing.

After an endoscopy, when I woke from the anesthesia, I joined my wife and we waited for the doctor to tell us the results. “Well, you’ve got cancer,” I recall him saying. His words confirmed the suspicion I had been trying to ignore all that time. Without looking up, I asked him if the cancer could be cut out. “No,” I remember him saying.

The end or just the beginning?

As we drove home from the clinic, I called family members to tell them about the diagnosis. My mother mentioned to me that she’d been seeing commercials for Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA),* and she thought I should call. In fact, she urged me to call, several times as we spoke. I’m a grown man—I was 60 when I was diagnosed—but there was no way I would ignore my mother’s counsel. 

The next day, I spoke with a representative from CTCA® Chicago, who got to work making arrangements for my initial consultation. My wife and I were met at the airport by a driver and taken to a hotel. My mind was racing that whole first night. What would happen? What kind of tests would I have to undergo?

The next few days consisted of a thorough review of my health. Every question I had was answered. At the end of that initial evaluation, my medical oncologist reviewed my imaging scans with us, showed us the tumor, and explained his recommended treatment approach. He encouraged me to go home, consider his suggestion, and decide what I wanted to do. But I didn’t need to. “When can we start?” I asked him. “Right now,” he replied. About an hour later, I began my cancer treatment.

Restored faith

My treatment consisted of chemotherapy. Due to side effects, the regimen was changed, and I received the treatment every other week.

Faith turned out to be an important companion to me during cancer treatment. Earlier in my life, I had served as a church pastor, but had turned away from the church after some negative experiences. A friend who was also treated for and beat pancreatic cancer invited me to attend church services with her. After declining the first few times, eventually, I decided to accept the invitation. I knew that I needed something to help me find the strength to get through this difficult time. By the end of that service, I knew what I’d been missing, and my faith began to grow again.

This restored belief assisted me during my treatment. I was able to stay with the bigger picture, so that even when I was experiencing side effects, I could see this was just one more moment in my life that would pass. Undergoing chemotherapy helped me keep my priorities straight. I realized the importance of the relationships I have in my life, and I began telling the people I care about how I feel about them, how thankful I am that they are in my life. It also gave me the knowledge and compassion to reach out and help others having difficulties coping with their own personal cancer battle.

The results are in

Imaging scans taken periodically during my treatment showed that the cancer was not progressing. At one point, the tumor shrunk. The halt in growth had enabled me to take three-month “chemo holidays,” or breaks from treatment that allowed me to recover and become accustomed to my new normal. I had three chemo holidays, which felt like a major success.

Then, when I returned to CTCA after the third break in treatment, my medical oncologist told me that my imaging scans showed no visible sign of cancer. “All we see is some scar tissue where it used to be,” he told me.

I know that this result may not last, and that my journey will continue. But I have learned to embrace it, not only as a necessary medical procedure, but also as part and parcel of my time here on earth.

Learning to speak with others about my diagnosis was a huge transformation for me. In coming to understand that cancer is not a death sentence, I became who I am today. I began speaking with others coping with the same fears, to provide whatever easement I could as they found their way. I joined the Cancer Fighters® Care Network and dedicated myself to being there for others in need. Finding this avenue for giving back has been invaluable. We are stronger than we give ourselves credit for, and I love reminding others of that any chance I get. 

Rather than a burden, cancer was an event that provided me with insights that I could share with others, to help them through their difficult times. Because it is connected to my restored sense of faith, sharing those insights feels like part of my life’s purpose.  

* Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) is now City of Hope®, working together to expand patient access to personalized, comprehensive cancer care. Because this patient testimonial was written and published before CTCA® and City of Hope joined forces, mentions of legacy CTCA locations have not been updated in the interest of maintaining the patient’s original voice and story details.