Absolutely Beating the Odds

My friend Bill Shrieves, 77,  always has been an overachiever.

A while back he and his wife bought a new in-home care franchise, rapidly growing it into a large, profitable venture. In his younger days, he completed the Marine Corps Marathon three times and just to prove he still could, did it again when he turned 70.

No wonder he decided he could survive a stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

“I never really thought I was going to die,” Bill told me after we met last month at my “Morning of Hope” seminar on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

The medical pronouncement of get-ready-to-die came in January 2011.

Yes, you read that right. As of this writing, Bill is a 13.5-year survivor of pancreatic cancer spread to the liver, making him once again in an elite group as the 5-year survival rate for stage 4 pancreatic is only 1-3%.

Bill’s journey began in November 2010 when an episode of dark urine led him to urgent care where at the age of 64 he was diagnosed with a pancreatic tumor.

The day before Thanksgiving he was at the University of Maryland, Baltimore for surgery called a Whipple procedure which removed the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine, the gallbladder, and the bile duct.  (Only about 20-percent of pancreatic patients are eligible for a Whipple.)

Bill applied to a clinical trial for his post-op treatment, but a CT scan two months after surgery revealed bad news: he no longer was eligible for the trial because the cancer had metastasized to a handful of liver lesions.

“My oncologist told me ‘get your affairs in order because you probably won’t live until the end of the year’.”

Bill started a regimen called FOLFIRINOX, which combines three chemo drugs and a vitamin-B derivative to enhance their efficacy. By mid-March all the lesions except one were gone and in July it, too, disappeared.

After eleven rounds of chemo, Bill’s doctor followed him with scans for several years, but “at the 10-year mark my oncologist fired me!” Bill recalled with a laugh.

However, well before Bill hit that amazing 10-year mark, he was back to achieving again, and in 2013 founded a small nonprofit called Mid-Shore Pancreatic Cancer Foundation midshorepancan.org

“I really wanted to have an impact on pancreatic cancer patients locally,” he explained.

About 15 volunteers offer practical support to maybe a dozen patients each year, and talk or correspond with dozens more around the world who need encouragement. Funds are raised through evening 5K runs at a local golf course.

“We do things like pay bills for them–we even bought a set of false teeth for a lady!,” Bill said.

I asked him why he thinks he has survived when doctors and statistics said he would not.

“I do think optimism is an important thing and I also have a strong faith in God,” said Bill, who along with his wife Jean of 57 years, has two children, three grandchildren, and two great-grands.

“Every day I ask myself why God spared me and what am I supposed to do today,” he added. “I don’t know how someone can face a potentially life-ending illness without faith.”

(For more encouraging pancreatic cancer survivor stories, go to https://pancan.org/stories/)

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Bill loves gospel music and he and Jean attend a small African-American church where they are the only  white folks. The song “Heaven is Looking Down on Me” is one he enjoys hearing his church’s men’s choir sing. So open in your browser, sit back, and be blessed by The Canton Spirituals’ rendition.

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