By Karen Ambrogi
Hearing of Steve Jobs death yesterday I can’t help but reflect on my brother in law, Mike, and his determined fight to win his future back from pancreatic cancer. Mike was diagnosed stage IV in 2003 when he was 44. He was married to my youngest sister, Erin, and they had 3 young children. The youngest was just 4 years old. He was told to get his affairs in order; he had maybe 6 months more or less to live unless he was really lucky. It’s a “typical” forecast for stage IV cancer patients.
What I want to say is Mike fought. He endured sickening chemo treatments to stall the progression of the disease while searching for treatment options. He went to work, most every day, when he wasn’t in treatment or seeing doctors. One of my other sisters (there are 4 of us), Dana, was on a mission to find a solution too. She did. It was an expensive one that involved long distance travel and long stays away from home. Thank God my family had the ability to help with the costs.
Long story short, an experimental medicine extended his life to 18 months and gave him a much improved quality of life. It bought him time to get his family as ready as they could possibly be for a future without him, all though he was very determined to beat the odds. He eventually died of side effects from the cancer.
He wasn’t the only casualty of cancer. While Mike fought to live, my youngest sister (his wife) rallied like a champ to hold it together for the family and to “have Mike’s back”. Mike, never a touchy, feely guy, was in battle mode and became not so available, at a time when time was precious. Then she had to make the call to remove him from life support. I was there for that. We were with Mike when he died. Erin was left with tremendous debt and 3 devastated children. She lost some friends who just couldn’t take it. She lost her dream of growing old with Mike and for a while I think she too was lost. Stress took its toll. The rest of my family lost countless hours of sleep, knowing what was certain to come, helpless to prevent it, sick at heart. I tried to accept death calling Mike so soon. After death I’m sure he was fine, it was the living, walking wounded who weren’t.
People we didn’t know came to be close friends, offering support during and after Mike’s illness. We met many beautiful, compassionate people in the clinics and hospitals. A whole town supported several fundraisers. Mike’s cancer was the catalyst for a nonprofit organization for end stage cancer patients. Mike’s participation in the clinical trial led to some promising developments. The experiences of pleading for compassionate use approval across the USA, searching through complicated clinical trial abstracts and databases, facing heartbreaking decisions because of limited financial resources – all this led to my sister Dana starting Lazarex Cancer Foundation. Lazarex is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping end stage cancer patients identify clinical trial options and providing financial assistance for costs associated with participating in clinical trials; like airfare, ground transportation, lodging, fuel, parking, and certain medical expenses. So there is an option to hospice for cancer patients who aren’t ready to give up. Lazarex is in its 5th year and has provided financial support for over 100 patients, some still in clinical trials for over two years, and some in remission. www.lazarex.org