Stanley J. Vitikas: A Warrior

Stanley J. Vitikas

Diagnosed: Late 2007
Survivor: A 10-Year Survivor, 2017

It was time for my annual physical in 2007, just a routine visit to my primary care physician, which I often found to be an inconvenience. This time however it turned out to be anything but routine.

My glucose level was a little high and a follow-up test showed elevated pancreatic enzymes, prompting my doctor to order a CT scan. The scan showed a dilated bile duct and a small mass in the pancreas that was highly suggestive of pancreatic cancer.

I was shocked. Not being that familiar with pancreatic cancer, I immediately searched Google for any information that would enlighten me to this disease. If pancreatic cancer was confirmed, what would I be dealing with? How serious could this be? Where do I go from here?

What I discovered sent cold chills down my spine. All cancers are life-threatening, but the average 5-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is less than 6%. That alone was frightening but even more alarming was the average projected remaining life span when metastasized is just 6 to 9 months.

It was a nightmare waiting for negative or positive confirmation. After scans and procedures at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, the diagnosis was confirmed. Although it was bad news, I was one of the fortunate few that was diagnosed in the early stages when this evil disease is most treatable.

Since the tumor was localized and had not spread to other tissues and organs, I was eligible for Whipple Surgery which was performed in May of 2008 at Mayo Hospital. This involved partial removal of my pancreas, removal of my gallbladder and re-routing of the bile distribution network that permitted the digestive process to continue.

I then faced nine months of chemotherapy and radiation. It was not easy, but I was determined to fight this thing with all of my energy. So far, I’ve been lucky as my tumor was confined to the pancreas at the time of diagnosis based on the luck of early detection.

Throughout my ordeal, it’s been important to keep my faith and hope. To continue living and enjoying life with the support of family and friends. In this continuing battle, I’ve discovered how crucial it is to maintain physical fitness and to adhere to a healthy diet.

I would remind everyone that your best advocate is yourself. That we can become the best prevention by not only being aware of risk factors and symptoms of this dreadful disease, but to practice a healthy lifestyle that could minimize future risk. While there are many risk factors that we can’t control, there are others that are somewhat within our control.

Shortly after, I became familiar with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, a national organization dedicated to supporting patients, advancing awareness and funding research similar to the efforts of the Seena Magowitz Foundation.

I have since been a volunteer supporting Patient Outreach as well as political advocacy to lobby for an increase in federal funding. The National Cancer Institute allocates less than 2 percent of its nearly $4.5 billion annual budget to pancreatic cancer research, despite being the 4th leading cancer killer in the United States with the lowest survival rate.

The Seena Magowitz Foundation continues to do wonderful things to fight this disease, including it Annual Celebrity Golf Classic. This annual event raises awareness and raises funds to fuel continuing pancreatic research through TGen.

Together, with grass-roots passion and vigor, we can change the course of this disease!

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