Pancreatic cancer survivor has message of hope for Alex Trebek

RALEIGH -- Thomas Dinwiddie, of Linwood, was saddened to hear that Jeopardy host Alex Trebek was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

That was Dinwiddie's diagnosis almost exactly seven years ago.

"Everybody's going to tell you, you can't beat this," Dinwiddie said. But he did.

He researched treatment options. Dinwiddie said he wouldn't just lie down and let death take him away.

"If life has been good, why wouldn't you scrap for another day," he said, getting emotional. "You gotta get angry I guess. I was angry from the getgo."

Dinwiddie got treatment at Duke. He eventually ended up having 15 rounds of chemo.

Dr. Kevin Shah, a Surgical Oncologist at the Duke, Raleigh Hospital, said pancreatic cancer is difficult to treat and detect early.

"You can imagine that even under ideal circumstances, the survival is so low that having a patient survive five or 10 years is a minority of patients rather than the majority," Dr. Shah said.

"The nature of the cancer itself makes it difficult for the chemotherapy to get into the tumor to effectively treat it," Dr. Shah said. "There are a lot of important blood vessels and other structures around the pancreas that make it difficult to remove if the tumor grows, even to a slightly larger size."

Dinwiddie said the staff at Duke, his wife, Diane, and his positive attitude helped him get through it.

"Trying is better than laying there and giving in and just waiting on that day," Dinwiddie said. "I mean, I would rather go down fighting."

Dr. Autumn McRee, a Gastrointestinal Oncologist at UNC Health Care and UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, said 50,000 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019.

"Stage 4 is our more advanced stage of pancreatic cancer and it's simply defined by the fact that the cancer has left the pancreas where it started and has found a way to travel somewhere else," Dr. McRee said. "For these patients, the majority of them have spread to the liver. Because of that spread, this is no longer a cancer that we can remove with surgery. Hence, it's really challenging to cure patients with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. But we do have treatments and those treatments are generally in the form of chemotherapy and most of our patients are able to gain benefit from chemotherapy, both in terms of their quality of life but also, their life expectancy."
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