Life is such a precious gift--and as much as you know this, you don't understand the real meaning of this gift until something happens that drastically affects its preciousness. As I begin this story about my love Franco, I can honestly say that things are still somewhat surreal. For as long as I've known Franco, he has always been somebody who cares for himself, others and this earth, as much as possible. He knows how blessed that he is and does all that he can to show appreciation for what he has been given in life. Therefore, you can't help but ask, why would something like this happen to Franco? I do believe that there is a reason--one that we will only figure out as we take this journey. What we've already learned in this short time is that we are not alone. God is with us. And so are an amazing group of family and friends. We deeply appreciate all the love, support, help and prayers that have already been shared. And we want to share back with all of you the details of our journey through this blog as a way of keeping you close.
As many of you know, Franco was training to run the NYC marathon on November 2, 2008--his 42nd birthday! About 2 weeks prior to the race, he started not feeling quite right. He was nauseous and tired, and noticed dark urine. He went to the doctor and they thought he had a combination of some kind of virus and rhabdomyolosis--a condition that sometimes affects marathon runners. Later that week, he realized that his eyes and skin were turning yellow. He was jaundiced. The results of an ultrasound and CT scan indicated a mass in the head of his pancreas, obstructing his common distal bile duct. This is what was causing the jaundice. On 10/31 he had a procedure called an ERCP where they sent a camera down, took biopsy samples and placed a stent in his bile duct to open the constriction caused by the mass. The stent was placed successfully, but the biopsies turned out to be inconclusive. What we learned is that biopsies can confirm the presence of cancer--but a negative (inconclusive) result can not confirm the absence of cancer. Since the mass was relatively small (approx 2 cm) and appeared to be localized (meaning it didn't seem like there was possible cancer elsewhere)--we were referred to a surgical oncologist. We learned that approx 90% of masses in the pancreas are malignant--so this was "cancer until proven otherwise". But since the doctor was directing us to a surgical oncologist for removal--this was excellent news. Because as we learned, most cases of pancreatic cancer do not present themselves until the cancer is at a late stage--and surgery is usually not an option then. And surgery is the only cure.
So as you might imagine--our search for information and doctors to fight this potential disease began. And we never could have imagined how expedited our search would become, with the help of so many people at Merck. Through friends, colleagues and Merck doctors that we don't even know--we received recommendations for hospitals and names of specific surgical oncologists. And in several cases, with the help of Merck doctors, we've gotten expedited appts. And several Merck doctors have also taken the time to talk to us about the disease and given us advice and direction. It's all so wonderfully unbelievable. We can not nearly express all the gratitude we feel for all of the Merck people that have helped us thus far.
In the mean time, Franco was scheduled for another ERCP on Monday, 11/17. They were again going to biopsy the mass to see if we could get a diagnosis. But things didn't go quite as planned. This past week Wednesday (11/12), Franco began suffering from severe abdominal pain. He went to the ER and through a series of tests, it was determined that the pain was likely due to the stent. So they moved up his ERCP to Thursday (11/13)--and confirmed that the stent was blocked and an infection was starting. That was the cause of his pain. They replaced the stent with a wider one, to avoid more blockage. And they also performed additional biopsies--and we have now learned that Franco does have pancreatic cancer. While we were expecting that this was the case, the reality of the situation is heavy. Fortunately, both by the hands of God and those of our family and friends--we are being held up high to fight this battle. Franco has been amazingly positive and I am in awe of his strength and will. I know, in particular, it's due to that which he loves most--his beautiful Ana and Noah. Together, the four of us make an excellent team and we will fight to win.
We had the fortune to meet with Dr. David August, the Head of Surgical Oncology from the Cancer Institute of NJ, while Franco was in the hospital (whom originally we couldn't even get an appt with until Dec 18)--which makes me believe that things really do happen for a reason. Additionally, we have an appt on Tuesday with Dr. Michael Jarnagin (Vice Chair, Surgical Services, Dept of Surgery; Chief of Hepatopancreatobiliary Services at Memorial Sloan-Kettering) and on Thursday with Dr. Charles Yeo (Samuel D. Gross Professor and Chair of Surgery at Thomas Jefferson University's Jefferson Medical College in PA). Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we go through the decision making process for selecting the surgical oncologist to do this very complex surgery.
We will continue to keep you all posted. Thanks for all the positive thoughts, prayers and kindness. It makes an unbelievable difference in our lives.
With much love and gratitude,