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Survivor Story: Clinical Trial Participant – Michael Lippe

I should not be here.  I was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer in December 2007.  It had already spread to my liver, which resembled a piece of raisin bread.  Through a series of fortunate circumstances, I was able to begin chemotherapy treatment almost immediately.  I was 64 and I did not expect to live very long.  My oncologist, a pancreatic cancer specialist at a high volume hospital for pancreatic cancer, and my wife, Elizabeth Bellamy, have been the architects and my companions on this improbable five year journey.

My first treatment consisted of a then-seldom used combination of chemotherapy drugs.  It had been tried with small numbers of patients, but had never been the subject of formal trial studies.  After the first three months of this treatment, I began to improve.  My CA 19-9 numbers dropped dramatically from over 5,000 to the low hundreds.  I began to think there might be a chance to live for a bit longer.  I was able to plan and to visit my children and grandchildren.  When a year had passed, I began to think what else I might do.  As the old saying goes, when one door closes, others open.  I asked my doctor whether she might be willing to write a book with me about this very rare experience, and she agreed.  Together, we wrote and published our book in 2011.  It describes in detail what pancreatic cancer is and what some of the things that a patient and his doctor go through from diagnosis onward.  We alternate chapters in a sort of back and forth way.  After four years on this combination of chemotherapy drugs, or I should say on and off, because there were long periods when I was able to stop treatment, it began to be less effective.  We agreed that it might be better to try something new.

I am now in a clinical trial at another high volume hospital for pancreatic cancer, taking another combination of chemotherapy drugs and a type of experimental targeted therapy drug.  It seems to be working; I guess I might say it is helping me to tread water, although it is not having the same dramatic impact that the previous combination chemotherapy did.  Still, after five years of chemotherapy, I am happy to be here, and looking toward new goals.  My story is living proof that, rare though it might be, sometimes good things happen with this disease.

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