Juan Burton-Flores, A Determined Pancreatic Cancer Warrior

Diagnosed: July 2017
Survivor: Still Fighting

Written By Debra Gelbart
December, 2018

In July of 2017, Juan Burton-Flores and his wife Geovanna Proto were facing a hopeless future. In their hometown of Hermosillo, Mexico, two months earlier, Juan had started experiencing discomfort in his gut. When symptoms persisted, Juan underwent an endoscopy (where the digestive system is examined through a scope) and got a clean bill of health.

But during July, he lost 20 pounds without dieting. He went back to the doctor, who was concerned and ordered an MRI scan. That’s when the couple’s lives changed dramatically.

Juan was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreas cancer. “They found a 9.1 centimeter tumor in the tail of his pancreas that had adhered to his colon, kidney and spleen,” Geovanna explained in an interview in Boston at while at the 16th Annual Seena Magowitz 2018 Golf Classic. The weekend event raised more than $1 million toward the fight against pancreatic cancer.

“When he was diagnosed, Juan and I were told he only had a couple of months to live and he should just go home—there was nothing that could be done for him,” Geovanna said.

But Geovanna and Juan were both unwilling to accept that prognosis. “I said no, I’m not giving in,” Geovanna said. “We started searching everywhere via the Internet, all over the U.S.” She said references for treatment kept coming back to Scottsdale and Dr. Daniel Von Hoff, the world’s leading pancreatic research physician affiliated with HonorHealth in Scottsdale and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix. “Since we live in Hermosillo, Mexico we couldn’t believe it was only a six-hour drive away from us.”

Journey to Arizona

By August of 2017, Juan and Geovanna had relocated to the Phoenix area so that Juan could begin treatment under the direction of Dr. Von Hoff and Erkut Borazanci, M.D., another leading pancreatic cancer researcher with HonorHealth and TGen.

“At first Juan didn’t want to go to the U.S., Geovanna said. “Initially he preferred to go to Mexico City. but finally decided on going to Scottsdale in the US where everyone at HonorHealth has been wonderful to us.”

On August 21, Juan received his first chemotherapy treatment, a newer combination of five drugs known as “The Grand Slam”. Juan underwent a total of five cycles of this treatment regimen. The regimen consists of three drugs administered in combination: nab-paclitaxel (brand name Abraxane), gemcitabine (brand name Gemzar) and cisplatin.

Read More About “The Triple Clinical Trial”

“Juan would be so beat from 12 hours of chemo, but we would be happy to be there because of all the love we felt,” Geovanna said.

During the course of his treatment, Juan and Geovanna came to know about the Seena Magowitz Foundation, established by Roger Magowitz in memory of his mother. Juan and Geovanna also learned about the Foundation’s ongoing success with raising money for pancreatic cancer research carried out by TGen and HonorHealth.

“When we heard about all the work Roger does, we were so impressed,” Geovanna said. “Here his mom passed away in 2001 and he’s still so devoted to the cause of finding a cure for pancreatic cancer. These are the things that lift us up. If Roger continues to fight on behalf of us and all pancreatic cancer patients, we have to try, we have to be warriors. We can’t give up.”

Thankful for Blessings

Geovanna reflected on unexpected surprises. “And here we are in Boston,” she said. “When would I think we’d be in Boston? It’s been quite a journey and we hope to be at the Golf Classic next year. We’re not looking for remission; we’re looking for a cure.”

Juan had an impressive response to his treatment under Drs. Von Hoff and Borazanci’s care. “When we got to Scottsdale, he had four masses in his liver and masses in his peritoneum. When he finished the treatment, his tumor (size) was down to 4.5 (centimeters), and he had no masses in his liver or his peritoneum. Yeah, we’re fighting cancer and we’re kicking it in the butt.”

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