Understanding Pancreatic Cancer
- Esther Lee, celebrity sports physical therapist, has spent most of her adult life caring for others. Now, faced with a stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis, she’s putting herself first.
- When Esther, 43, began to experience fatigue and insomnia in early 2020, she never thought it could be cancer. But doctors found a 14-centimeter cancerous tumor on her pancreas; the disease had been spreading for years.
- SurvivorNet experts says pancreatic cancer is soon to be the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.
She’s worked as a physical therapist in Los Angeles for years, working with athletes like tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams and Olympic snowboarding star Shaun White.Read More
Tuesday’s (May 17) Sports Illustrated Daily Cover detailed Esther’s life, career and cancer diagnosis, and how the celebrity physical therapist is doing now-a-days as she’s faced with her own mortality.
As previously stated, taking care of herself has become the most important thing. She’s taking the time to do things for herself, things she used to love doing but have taken to the back burner because of cancer.
“It’s (cancer) made me realize that if I can help anybody else be inspired, I want to do it,” Esther told Sports Illustrated. “I’ve gone through a lot of mental challenges through my journey with cancer, and that’s been the hardest part, getting through the mental part of it. If I can help, I am so happy to share my story, and to share the lessons that I’ve learned along the way.”
She told Sports Illustrated that she recently took her dog, Ollie, to a veterinarian appointment and let him run around on the beach in Santa Monica, Calif., afterwards. But when she was headed back to her car, she felt cold and suddenly began to jog.
“I was so happy,” she told the magazine. “I haven’t been able to jog since my diagnosis.”
“I mean, it wasn’t really a jog,” she laughed. “But it was lifting my feet off the ground.”
Esther Lee’s Cancer Diagnosis
When Esther, 43, began to experience fatigue and insomnia in early 2020, she never thought pancreatic cancer would be the cause.
“I was having a really hard time breathing when I would go running,” Lee previously told KABC News 7 in Los Angeles. “I started noticing that my upper abdomen started protruding.”
Her doctors found a 14-centimeter cancerous tumor on her pancreas; the disease had been silently spreading for years.
“People always saw me as really healthy,” Lee said.
She played volleyball, ran marathons and did triathlons. She’s even a doctor of physical therapy.
“I think that’s so strange that I was this very unhealthy, healthy person,” she added.
Her cancer had metastasized and spread to her liver, lymph nodes and spine.
“So, I do have stage 4 (cancer),” she said.
Understanding Pancreatic Cancer
Dr. Anirban Maitra, of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, previously told SurvivorNet that because the pancreas is inside the abdomen, “it often doesn’t have symptoms that would tell you that something is wrong with your pancreas … by the time individuals walk into the clinic with symptoms like jaundice, weight loss, back pain or diabetes, it’s often very late in the stage of the disease.”
The American Cancer Society estimates that about 62,210 people will be diagnosed with this type of cancer in 2022, and about 49,830 people will die from it, which is to Maitra’s point that “most people will die from this disease within a few months to a year or so from the diagnosis.”
“The reason for that is that most individuals, about 80 percent, will actually present with what we called advanced disease (or metastatic), which means that the cancer has either spread beyond the pancreas or into other organs like the liver, and so you cannot take it out with surgeries,” he said.
Dr. Allyson Ocean explains why pancreatic cancer is so hard to treat.
Dr. Allyson Ocean, a medical oncologist at Weill Cornell Medical Center, previously told SurvivorNet that pancreatic cancer is soon to be the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.
“Mortality is rising because it’s caught so late,” she said, “and we don’t have enough effective medications against the cancer.”
So, the question in front of oncologists today is: “How can we detect this disease earlier in the process so we can have a better impact on the survival of our patients?” Maitra said.