EYE ON CANCER: Plymouth woman stricken by pancreatic cancer stays home for treatment


In the United States, pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of death due to cancer.

There are often no early symptoms.

By the time it's diagnosed, the cancer has usually spread to other parts of the body, and it's very lethal.

However, new clinical trials at a local cancer care center are giving some people hope for survival.

"I was a very active person, so when I got this diagnose (of pancreatic cancer), how could this be me," asked Sharon Satorius.

Last July, the 74-year-old Satorius of Plymouth learned she had the disease.

"I played golf on Monday," she recalled. "By Thursday, I was in the hospital diagnosed with a disease that is life-threatening."

Roughly, 35,000 Americans are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year, and the survival rate is very low.

"Pancreatic cancer is a great challenge," said Dr. Roderich Schwarz, the medical director for the Center for Cancer Care in Goshen. "In fact, it's one of the, if not the most, challenging human cancer for survival outlook."

Dr. Schwarz says the survival rate is low because pancreatic cancer is often caught in advanced stages. As for the symptoms..

"Development of jaundice, that's always abnormal and needs to be investigated. But if there are components, such as back pain, if there is some unexplained weight loss, if there is some development of diabetes, increased blood sugar levels in combination with back pain or weight loss, those would be very concerning consultations."

Most patients are treated with a standardized approach, including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, but there are also new protocols in experimental treatment.

"At the Center for Cancer Care in Goshen, we have several protocols available for innovative, not proven, but very promising therapies," Schwarz noted.

Satorius' family helped her research where to go for help. They decided staying local was her best option.

"They were able to give me some hope that there are things we can do," she said. "I think in any disease, there comes a point you have to trust somebody, and if you don't, it's all for naught."

Satorius had surgery and chemotherapy for her pancreatic cancer. She is now part of a clinical study, receiving vaccinations once a month for the rest of this year in hopes her body will fight off any future cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, there are no established guidelines for preventing pancreatic cancer, although cigarette smoking has been reported as responsible for 20-30% of cases.