Pancreatic cancer has gained national attention after several prominent figures, including Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who was diagnosed in 2003 and died in October. Actor Patrick Swayze died in 2009. It's often referred to as a silent killer, there isn't a screening for it and by the time you find out you have it, often times its spread to several organs. Nancy Naeve Brown met a Huron woman who was diagnosed in August 2011 and is fighting it tooth and nail.
Joyce Marvel is from Huron but has spent a month and a half at the Walsh Family Village in Sioux Falls so she could be near the Avera Cancer Institute. She is getting around the clock treatment for pancreatic cancer including daily radiation and a chemo pump that needs to be changed out once a week. It's an aggressive treatment plan that followed a massive surgery.
Joyce's Oncologist is Dr. Heidi McKean with Avera Medical Group Oncology and Hematology. She says, "The chemo is helping the radiation work better. We are constantly having chemo therapy flow through her veins in order to aim at that spot where they are radiating so it is aggressive but we are keeping a close eye on her so it's not too toxic and she's done a good job."
Joyce's journey here to Sioux Falls started back in August of 2011 after she got the devastating news.
Joyce says, "Denial. I didn't want to talk about it. Then when I did decide it's real. I have it. We deal with it. And from then on I'll talk to everyone about it."
Dr. Heidi McKean says, "Pancreatic cancer is one of those cancers that unfortunately doesn't remain confined to that organ, that's the nature of pancreatic cancer. It moves easily to tissues that surround it, to the lymph nodes to the liver so usually when we find it we are at an advanced stage."
Joyce is one of only 20% of pancreatic cancer patient who are offered a Whipple surgery. Steve Jobs turned it down because her thought it was too invasive. Joyce will tell you it is invasive, but her only real chance of beating it. In a Whipple procedure, a surgeon removes part of the pancreas with the tumor. They can't remove all of it, it's a vital organ that processes sugar in our digestive system and we can't live without it. Joyce also had her gallbladder and part of her liver, stomach, and bile duct removed. It's then all rerouted and patched together. She healed for 6 weeks and then started chemo and radiation.
Dr. McKean says, "We are very hopeful for Joyce. She's made it through that huge surgery and chemo and radiation which I think is the toughest part. "
Joyce says, "I feel great. I really do. Sometimes I have to back up and say you have pancreatic cancer are you really supposed to feel this good? I do. All through the chemo pack and radiation I had no nausea none at all."
During the check-up that we were at, Joyce got the welcome news she gets to go home to Huron for a break from chemo and radiation. As she bid a brief farewell to Dr. McKean I watched and marveled at Joyce Marvels spirit in her fight to beat the odds against a formidable opponent. If anyone can, she can.
It's been 7 months since we first aired this story. Joyce did 6 more months of chemo and is doing great.