16 weeks to live: How a year later, this man is cancer-free
61-year-old Mike Shrader, a Chicago fireman and first responder called to New York City in 2001 when the World Trade Center fell, was initially shocked to hear of his pancreatic cancer diagnosis in January of 2016. He says he had always been healthy and rarely ever got sick.
“I knew the statistics on pancreatic cancer were not good,” says Mike. “At first, I didn’t even want to consider treatment. I thought, why not just let nature take its course? But I wasn’t ready to die yet, and my family wasn’t going to let me take a ‘do-nothing’ approach.”
Without treatment, Mike was given 16 weeks to live. Fortunately, surgery was an option for him, which, according to Dr. Marc Mesleh, a hepatobiliary surgeon at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill., only 30% – 50% of pancreatic patients are eligible for.
Mike had his surgery, a Whipple procedure completed by Dr. Mesleh, on January 13, 2016, at Advocate Christ. During this procedure, the head of the pancreas, part of the small intestine called the duodenum, the gallbladder and the bile duct are removed.
Only five weeks after this operation, Mike was on vacation in St. Lucia and even did some snorkeling. Then, one week after his vacation, he started six months of chemotherapy and one month of radiation-proton therapy. He is now cancer free.
He says, “I was told attitude has a huge effect on a cancer patient’s outcome. So, I live each day with a zest for life.”
While undergoing chemotherapy, Mike continued to live life to its fullest. He would even go golfing by taking the equipment attached to him in a fanny pack around his waist. Mike is also an avid fan of fishing and hunting, which he continues to routinely do today.
“The support of family, friends and people I didn’t even know before the diagnosis has been unbelievable,” he says. “Kelly Baker, a nurse navigator at Advocate Christ, was invaluable in guiding me through the initial days and months when I didn’t know what to do next. If not for her, I don’t know if I would be here today. No one can do this cancer thing alone. I know that I am so very blessed to be one of the lucky ones and am grateful to be a survivor.”
Advocate is dedicated to spreading pancreatic cancer awareness, especially during November, which is pancreatic cancer awareness month. The American Cancer Society says about 53,670 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017 alone.
Because pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive cancers, catching the disease early can help increase chances of survival. Dr. Mesleh says accurate diagnosis of pancreatic cancer can be challenging because the symptoms are vague, but reporting these symptoms to a health care provider is key to a timely diagnosis.
These symptoms include: upper abdominal pain, nausea, weight loss, diarrhea, diabetes and yellowing of the skin and eyes.
For information about expert liver and pancreatic cancer care near you, click here.
About the Author
Jamie Bonnema, health enews contributor, is a specialist of public affairs and marketing at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. She earned her BA in communications from DePaul University in Chicago. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, going to concerts, and cheering on the Chicago Cubs.