BEACHWOOD, Ohio (WJW) — Three years ago, Dan Jacobs, of Beachwood, noticed something changing with his appetite: he wasn’t hungry and filled up fast. Not that he was complaining.
“I felt fine,” he said. “I just wasn’t very hungry and for someone who has been overweight most of his adult life, OK, I’m feeling good, I’m losing weight, I’m not having these eating habits’.”
Months later, he noticed his skin looked yellow. He blamed it on the bathroom lighting.
“That was the first moment I was in denial,” he said.
Luckily, he had a regular appointment with his doctor. When he walked in, his doctor said, “you’re yellow.” After a CAT scan, it was made official on Nov. 20, 2018: he had stage 3 pancreatic cancer.
Three years later, Dan and his wife, Marci, are still dealing with the disease. November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, and they’re sharing their story in hopes that it helps other people know what to watch for and how to deal with the diagnosis.
Marci said looking back, Dan showed several symptoms other than jaundice and weight loss like an itchy back, back pain and burping before his diagnosis. Plus, pancreatic cancer runs in the family. His grandmother passed away from it, and his aunt also had the disease.
Dan started treatment with standard care chemotherapy medications but experienced severe side effects. At one point, he said, his kidneys began to shut down.
“The doctors said, ‘we are not going to torture you anymore,” he said, and chemo ended for the time being.
He underwent a Whipple procedure, where parts of organs like his pancreas, stomach and gallbladder were removed to alleviate some of his symptoms. When he recovered, treatment resumed.
At one time, he went 10 months without showing any signs of the disease. But it came back in more spots than before.
In July 2020, he enrolled in a clinical trial involving chemotherapy medications, immunotherapy and experimental medications.
Fast forward 17 cycles later.
“I get scans every two months,” he said. “The last two scans up to this point…things were getting smaller. The last couple of scans, things were basically stable. At least for now, it seems to be holding the cancer at bay.”
For now, he’ll continue the current regiment. But things are uncertain.
“We just don’t know,” he said. “It’s an experimental treatment. Yeah, I could be plateauing. I could be doing this for the rest of my life in some way. A lot of the scary part of all of this is what’s coming next. I don’t know. The oncologists don’t know.”
Huge supports for him have been his care team at University Hospitals Seidman Center — and many friends.
He told the story of when he was first diagnosed. His daughter was engaged at the time. Doctors told her if she wanted him healthy at her wedding, it should be done quickly. Their friends put the wedding together in three weeks.
“It was a small wedding, and it was really beautiful,” he said. “I got to dance with my daughter, a lot of crying. It was really beautiful and created some great memories for us. And it’s been almost three years since she’s been married.”
Dan and Marci said they’ve always been very active, taking part in Velosano fundraisers, biking, travel and the arts. His doctor emphasizes having something to look forward to, and they are happy to oblige.
The two just recently returned from a trip to Sant Lucia. And they’ve participated in the PurpleStride event through the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, which has provided them with many resources since their journey began.
During Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, the couple does have some pieces of advice.
“If you have anything out of the ordinary, talk to your doctor,” said Marci. “If your friends and family mention something to you, don’t shrug it off. They might see something you don’t.”
They also emphasize supporting research, through events like PurpleStride, that support treatment and studies for people going through pancreatic cancer.
“Really educate yourselves and treat people with kindness and love,” said Marci. “You don’t know what they’re going through behind closed doors.”
— To get involved with or to take advantage of resources through the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, click here.
— For more on the PurpleStride Cleveland 2022 event, click here.
— For more on a PANCAN campaign for genetic testing, click here.