PANAMA CITY- Pancreatic cancer is called a silent killer because the symptoms don't appear until the disease is in the later stages. Now a local man is sharing his story as a call to action. John Melchiorre was diagnosed with inoperable stage 4 pancreatic cancer in July. He minces no words about his prognosis, and frankly, he doesn't want others to either. What he does want to do is raise awareness about the disease and form a roundtable support group.
As he preps for his weekly chemo treatments, John Melchiorre is a man on a mission. He wants to get people talking about a deadly disease that doesn't get the attention of other cancers. "There are no screenings, there are no preventative measures, there are no early signs or early symptoms or early treatment. The only way a person knows that they have this is usually through the advanced symptoms that might come along. And when that happens, then the mortality rate can be anywhere from 3 to 12 months," said John.
As the cancer grows or spreads, pain might develop in the upper abdomen and sometimes down the back. Other symptoms may include jaundice, nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, weakness, and depression.
While John's "pan-can," as he calls it, is currently in check, his outlook on the situation is brutally honest. "I have no illusions about this, it's just week to week to week." That's why he's wasting no time getting his message out there. One of the ways he's doing that: his wardrobe choices. "I'm a little goofy about this sometimes," he laughs. When people ask about his attire he's glad to share the risk factors which include: heredity, a high fat diet, smoking, and heavy drinking. The statistics aren't pretty. "If the treatment works, it only works in a certain percentage of patients. Then you expect the tumor to shrink and the patient's symptoms to improve for a period of time. But eventually, in almost all patients, the disease begins to grow back. There is no cure for advanced stage pancreatic cancer," said Dr. Syed Mahmood of Bay Oncology Center.
In the face of all this, John is forming a support group for those recently diagnosed with the disease, those living through it, and their caregivers. Where does he get the fortitude to tackle this head on? "Number one it comes from the Lord, it comes from God. I claimed his peace, when I found out in July, it is the first thing I did."
For this retired cop and military man, there are no plans go quietly. "I'm reminded of the late English poet Dylan Thomas, and in one of his poems he said "I will not go gentle into that good night." And believe me, I will not go gentle into that good night."
There is good news to report, President Obama just signed a bill to fund more pancreatic cancer research. It will take years, but there is hope regarding future screenings and treatment for this disease.
"Team Life Port" will meet at the Marianna Library twice a month. If you are interested in joining the support group or know someone who might be, call the American Cancer Society Panama City office, at 785-9205 or email john at firstname.lastname@example.org