Stan Vitikas: Pancreatic Cancer Warrior

Written By Debra Gelbart
August 24, 2017

Stan Vitikas: 10-Year Survivor
Diagnosed: Late 2007
Survivor: In Remission

Making A Difference, A Decade Later

Stan Vitikas of Chandler, Arizona is a born researcher, and that may have contributed to his being a 10-year survivor of pancreatic cancer. He’s been an engineer and a supply chain manager and he’s now a lecturer at Arizona State University, and he reads everything he can about a subject he’s interested in. In April 2007, the topic at hand was his own health. His doctor discovered that he had a dilated pancreatic duct that was highly suggestive of pancreatic cancer, but not definitive. No mass was visible at the time, though signs of chronic pancreatitis were present, which, Stan learned, could have explained the ductal dilation.

“My doctors were obviously very concerned that cancer was present,” Stan said, “and recommended a Whipple procedure (the most commonly performed surgery to remove tumors in the pancreas), but preventive surgery at age 47 is a difficult choice.” So, after reading all he could about pancreatic cancer, he and his doctor decided to take a “watchful waiting” approach rather than pursue invasive surgery.

In July of that year, a ductal stricture (narrowing of the pancreas duct) was discovered and doctors again recommended a Whipple procedure, “But I had no detectable mass and no elevated CA 19-9 (the tumor marker for pancreatic cancer),” Stan said.

The Defining Moments

He sought second opinions, asking whether he should have more testing or undergo surgery. Fate stepped in, and in March 2008, a small mass appeared and he had a pancreatic biopsy that indicated the mass was “suspicious” for adenocarcinoma. At that point, he was scheduled for the Whipple procedure in May of that year. “It’s hard to submit to a Whipple when you have no symptoms and they’re not certain you have cancer,” he said. But by that time he had spent “literally thousands of hours reading about pancreatic cancer” and was comfortable that he was taking the correct next step.

“The doctors were quite certain this was the early stages of cancer,” he said. His surgeon removed a two-centimeter tumor that was identified as a Stage 1, Grade 3 adenocarcinoma. “It sends a cold chill down your spine to hear those words confirmed,” Stan said. “But the battle was on.”

Doctors aren’t sure why Stan was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at such a young age, but it may have arisen from chronic pancreatitis.

After he had surgery, he underwent six months of chemotherapy and 30 days of radiation therapy. Stan attributes his survival to his surgeon at the Mayo Clinic, Adyr Moss, M.D. “He’s a brilliant doctor—beyond capable and physically skilled,” Stan said. “He was extremely optimistic, and told me he was confident he had removed every bit of the cancer. He told me, ‘You’re gonna live to be 80 and die from something else.’ That gave me the hope I needed.”

About four years later, Stan began experiencing complications related to residual scarring, resulting in several bouts of acute pancreatitis—including an eight-day hospital stay in the Czech Republic while on a business trip. As a result, Stan underwent a second Whipple procedure in January 2013. “The doctors said the localized radiation had likely damaged the area where the pancreas attached to the intestine,” he said. “That was really hard to face, but Dr. Moss again did an amazing job and I’ve been mostly pain-free since.”

A Phenomenal Future

Stan also credits what he calls the “four Fs” for how well he feels today: “faith, friends, family and fitness.” He works out regularly and is grateful for his faith and the love and support from family and friends during a difficult time in his life. “I’m very lucky,” he said.

And he has become an advocate for fighting pancreatic cancer. He volunteers with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, raising awareness for the disease, lobbying for congressional funding and sharing his story. This year he has raised more than $20,000 for the Seena Magowitz Golf Classic by convincing friends to give to the cause. “What really impresses me is that Roger (Magowitz, the founder of the Seena Magowitz Foundation) personally calls every donor to thank them for their generosity; people really appreciate that and as a result they donate annually.”

Stan said he was moved to become an advocate through Roger’s call to action: “If not me, who?” Stan said he’s “been lucky enough to survive, so if not me, then who will step up and raise money for this cause?” He also is a patient liaison volunteer, offering emotional support to newly diagnosed pancreatic cancer patients. “When I was diagnosed, I couldn’t find a pancreatic cancer survivor anywhere,” he said. “So I want to make sure these patients know they’re not alone, that there are success stories. I want to give them hope.”

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