Learning about Pancreatic Cancer
- Eric Idle, 79, is back to his humorous ways after recently sharing details of his pancreatic cancer battle with the public.
- Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive disease that is difficult to detect because symptoms – including jaundice and weight loss – typically present at a later stage in the cancer’s development.
- Cancer will change your life, but we’ve seen survivors thrive time and time again. Ovarian cancer survivor Marecya Burton, for example, found her new passion after beating the disease. And breast cancer survivor Fernanda Savino says that cancer brought her a new appreciation for her relationships and her body.
In a recent tweet, Idle made light of a seemingly very serious attack in a parking lot.Read More
Then, in a continuation of the joke, he made another Tweet thanking fans who’ve wished him well.
“Thank you all for your kind concern about my assault by car park,” he tweeted. “Car lot for you other lot. I am fully recovered. I gave up drinking a few years back to lessen the risk of falling down. But perhaps I should have given up parking…. Anyway your messages were appreciated.”
Eric Idle’s Cancer Journey
Eric Idle recently shared details of his 2019 pancreatic cancer diagnosis in a personal essay for TIME.
“About three years ago I was incredibly lucky: I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,” he penned for the magazine. “Lucky? One of the most lethal forms of cancer, how on earth was that lucky? Well, because it was found incredibly early.
“No, not before lunchtime, but before it had gone anywhere.”
His diagnosis came about by chance after his doctor friend who specializes in preventive medicine started running some routine tests on Idle.
The cancer was unintentionally found while running some routine tests with his friend and doctor who specializes in preventive medicine.
“So this day we are doing an MRI,” he wrote. “[His friend] has already done blood work and notices a slightly high marker, a dubious blood score on a panel, and on a hunch asks Westside Medical Imaging, while they are examining a couple of other areas, to shoot an isotope into me to highlight and take a look at the pancreas.”
Thankfully, Idle’s pancreatic cancer was contained in his pancreas– a very fortunate situation considering that pancreatic cancer is often not diagnosed until it has spread and become difficult to treat effectively.
“He and the MRI technician gaze at the ghost of a tumor sitting in the middle of my pancreas,” he wrote. “It is intact. It is unattached. But it is undeniably, most probably, the C thing.
“However, this little puppy is still fairly new. It hasn’t burst or spread.”
Idle had surgery for treatment. Since then, he’s “been testing every six months and doing well.”
“The cancer is gone,” he wrote. “They could find no further trace in my body. I had been a dead man walking. I am going to live.”
Understanding Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive disease that is difficult to detect because symptoms – including jaundice and weight loss – typically present at a later stage in the cancer’s development. In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Anirban Maitra, the co-leader of the Pancreatic Cancer Moon Shot at MD Anderson Cancer Center, explains what he typically sees when patients develop this disease.
“Because the pancreas is inside the abdomen often doesn’t have symptoms that would tell you that something is wrong with your pancreas,” he says. “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.”
Parents, siblings and children of someone with pancreatic cancer are considered high risk for developing the disease because they are first-degree relatives of the individual. PGVs (pathogenic germline variants) are changes in reproductive cells (sperm or egg) that become part of the DNA in the cells of the offspring. Germline variants are passed from parents to their children, and are associated with increased risks of several cancer types, including pancreatic, ovarian and breast cancers. Germline mutations in ATM, BRCA1, BRCA2, CKDN2A, PALB2, PRSS1, STK11 and TP53 are associated with increased risk of pancreatic cancer.
Jessica Everett, a genetic counselor at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, encourages people in this category to look into possible screening options.
“If you’re concerned about pancreatic cancer in your family, start by talking to a genetic counselor to learn more about your risk and what options you have,” Everett said.
Thriving as a Cancer Survivor
A cancer diagnosis will change your life. But as we’ve seen in the case of Eric Idle, it is more than possible to thrive on the other side of your cancer journey.
Take Marecya Burton, for example. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at just 20 years old. Burton was a college student-athlete looking forward to graduation at the time, but all that had to change when she was forced to move home to start treatment.
“That was definitely challenging for me,” Burton said in a previous interview with SurvivorNet. “I was looking forward to graduating.”
She also had planned on pursuing a law degree after graduation – another dream she had to give up.
“I really had to, in a sense, put my life on hold,” she said. “Sometimes I look at where I am, and I can’t help but wonder, would I be further had I not had my diagnosis?”
But instead of law school, Burton found a new passion: teaching. She became a high school teacher in Baltimore, Maryland, and she’s since made peace with her new direction in life.
“I wouldn’t change my career for the world,” she says. “It’s so fulfilling.”
Other survivors, like Fernanda Savino, have said that cancer gave them a whole new perspective on life – one that has allowed her to appreciate both her body and her relationships more than ever.
“I’m a lawyer, and I used to be such a workaholic,” Fernanda previously told SurvivorNet. “I would work for long hours, and I would never make room for doctor appointments or anything like that.
“I started to take care of my health and be more respectful to my body, to me. I started to exercise more.”
Like so many others, Fernanda also said she relied on a lot of support from her loved ones – something she’ll always be grateful for.
“I had all the support … my family, my friends, even the ones that weren’t so close, they always were present,” she said. “I don’t know how I would have gotten through all of this without them.”