Len A.

Pancreatic Cancer - Stage 4


My doctor said to me, “You have cancer, and it is bad. But together, we can formulate a plan. I want to help you fight the cancer, and I want you to have hope.” The nurse held my hand, and I knew in that moment that I wanted to get treatment at City of Hope.

Growing up, my role models were police officers and firefighters. Both sides of my family worked in public service. In 1979, I followed in their footsteps and became a third-generation firefighter.

A few years later, in 1982, after a shift at the fire department, I went to my part-time job doing security for a hotel in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. That’s when I spotted Paula, who was a guest at the hotel on vacation. I got up the courage to speak to her, and the rest is history. We met in May, and we were married in December. She caught my eye then, and to this day, still has it.

After a long-distance romance, I moved to where Paula and her daughter, Ginny, lived in Richmond, Virginia. I was blessed to have a beautiful wife and 8-year-old daughter. I was hired by the city of Richmond’s fire department. My career with them spanned over 30 years. I was promoted, and I had many roles during that time, ending my career as a fire investigator. My highlight was completing 15 arson convictions.

Back in the day, we thought our fire equipment was good. It was always state-of-the-art and had the latest available in firefighting technology. As time progressed, our equipment got better, but the fires we fought got worse. Now homes and buildings have so many plastic materials in them that they burn hot and release toxic chemicals. As a fire investigator, I have been in meth houses, asbestos-ridden plants and other toxic environments. I loved my job, but being in this line of work exposed me to many different carcinogens.

In January 2018, I retired from the fire department. My wife and I were enjoying our free time together and planning our future. One day, I underwent a routine colonoscopy, something I had been doing for years. The next day my leg was swollen, and I went in to see my primary care doctor. The doctor thought it was a blood clot and sent me in for a CT scan. The radiologist who reviewed the results noticed something else in the corner of the images, and I was sent in for another scan.

Shocking news

A couple days later, in August 2018, Paula and I were sitting around the pool, relaxing, and planning what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives. That’s when I got the call, and they told me the worst news of my life: I had a tumor on my pancreas. It was stage IV pancreatic cancer. Not only was it advanced, but it was also aggressive. The tumor was wrapped around my liver, my bowel and completely restricting my bile duct. I was in shock. The world seemed to collapse around me, and I couldn’t even speak to tell my wife the news.

I was told my tumor was inoperable, but I wasn’t ready to give up. I still had so much living to do. I wasn’t ready to leave behind my wife, daughter or granddaughter. So, I started searching for a second opinion.

I started talking to friends and family and asking for recommendations. A good friend of mine had recently been treated for cancer, and his scans came back with no evidence of disease, so I asked him what to do. Without hesitating, he told me to go to Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA).* He was a patient at CTCA® in Chicago and had such a positive experience receiving treatment there.

That’s when I called CTCA and set up my initial evaluation at the hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The same day, after taking my information, they called back to let me know everything was taken care of. I couldn’t believe how quick and easy the process had been, and within three weeks from my diagnosis, I arrived at CTCA.

I met my care team, and I was impressed from the start. Each person I met was so caring, attentive and intelligent. After completing tests and scans, I met with my medical oncologist. He spent a long time telling me about my cancer and the treatment options available to me. I got emotional just being empowered with knowledge specific to me and my cancer.

My doctor at CTCA said to me, “You have cancer, and it is bad. But together, we can formulate a plan. I want to help you fight the cancer, and I want you to have hope.” The nurse held my hand, and I knew in that moment that I wanted to get treatment at CTCA.

I wasn’t afraid of dying, that wasn’t my fear. The prospect of leaving my wife crushed me, and that was my main concern. We are all going home to His Kingdom at some point, but I needed more time to take care of Paula. I left it in God’s hands. I trusted my care team, and they promised to walk beside me through the journey, so I finally had hope.

I went home for a couple days to get my things in order, and then I went back to CTCA. Because of the severity of my diagnosis, my care team was looking into clinical trial options for me. But before we could even start my treatment, my bile duct had to be safely cleared and a stent needed to be placed. My body was experiencing jaundice, and it was only getting worse.

This was the most difficult part of my journey. The first surgery to put in a stent failed. Then the second surgery failed. My gastroenterologist suggested a third and final operation that he hoped would remedy the issue. My wife and I were nervous. We both prayed with the doctors, nurses and pastors at CTCA before that third operation. We asked God to bless the surgeon and guide him. The surgery was successful.

My medical oncologist ordered advanced genomic testing to identify options for me. After my care team saw the results, they got the go-ahead for a TAPUR trial. It was an unproven method with limited research associated with my cancer type, but it was the only option available. My doctors worked hard to get the approvals necessary to get me access to it.

I started the treatment, an immunotherapy infusion. Every three weeks, I took the train from Virginia to Philadelphia to receive my infusions. It was an easy routine that had impactful benefits. It took just two treatments to see the positive results. We were all ecstatic.

My cancer markers went from 1,900 in August to just 24 in April 2019. My medical oncologist noted that such improvements were “absolutely unseen in the medical community.”

In May 2019, when the immunotherapy drug began to attack my pituitary gland and endocrine system, CTCA reacted quickly. My medical oncologist called and worked together with the chief pharmacist at the pharmaceutical company to actively problem solve my issue. I was put on hydrocortisone, and within 24 hours, my symptoms were resolved. They flushed out my body and calmed my immune system down. I took off a week of treatment and then returned without any other issues.

Cancer was a blessing in disguise

CTCA saved my life, and for that, I will be forever grateful. I am blessed. I truly believe that everything that has happened to me was meant to be. After my diagnosis, I felt so much care and compassion from people I have never met. Prayer chains were started, and I had people all over the United States praying for me. Some people I still don’t know, and some I have met along the way. Getting diagnosed strengthened my faith and my marriage. I know I was meant to find my way to CTCA and connect with my entire care team. Every visit, my doctor tells me, “Live your best life.” I take his advice to heart.

I am still in active treatment. I have chronic cancer, and I will for the rest of my life. I have accepted that because I can live with it. I have been given a second chance at life. I am thankful for each day that I have here on earth. I have a new focus on helping others. If you need something, just ask, and I promise I will do whatever I can.

Each night, I pray that I am worthy of my extra time on earth. I share my story to give hope to others. I am challenging the curve on pancreatic cancer survival. It pains me to know that not everyone who is diagnosed with cancer has the same results that I have. I hope that my story can inform researchers and doctors and that it will help other patients.

I am so thankful to have this time with my wife. I am blessed beyond measure to be here with my daughter, Ginny, and granddaughter, Amber. I have been able to experience milestones with them, thanks to CTCA. My granddaughter is a competitive skater, and she plays many instruments. I love watching her perform, and I beam with pride over her accomplishments. I am so glad to have this extra time to show my family how much I love them.

Before my diagnosis, we were planning a move to Florida. We have friends who live there, and we were excited about joining them. After getting cancer, we put the brakes on that plan. Now that I am stable, and I can see a future. So, we decided it was time to keep living. In December 2019, we made the move to Florida. I have a little farther to travel to my treatment in Philadelphia, but I am always excited to go back and see everyone there.

I know I am blessed by getting cancer. Immense pressure can produce a better product or, in my case, person. Like grapes getting crushed to make wine or diamonds getting formed, the journey might be tough, but the results can be beautiful.

* 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.

August 2018
Treatment at: