Jason Anderson was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at age 40, a rare occurrence for a disease that usually strikes people who are much older. The late Apple CEO Steve Jobs and the late actor Patrick Swayze were also diagnosed fairly young, but two-thirds of patients are older than 65.
“I knew I didn’t have the greatest outlook,” Anderson says. “But my doctors never tacked a prognosis on me. They just talked about making it through tomorrow and that really helped. ”
That was nearly four years ago — and thanks in part to a clinical trial, Anderson is living a good life with his family, his pets, and his beloved American classic car collection. He drove a beautifully restored 1970 Chrysler Imperial to a recent oncology appointment.
“I’m grateful for everything, of course, to be a part of this study and that it has worked out so well,” says Anderson, who lives in Knowlesville, N.Y., a hamlet 40 miles west of Rochester. “None of this is lost on me.”
Treatment began in 2015 with surgery, a Whipple procedure to remove much of his pancreas, the gall bladder, part of the small intestines and other nearby tissue. During that time, however, doctors discovered that the cancer had spread to his liver, changing his diagnosis from stage 2 to stage 4. Anderson’s oncology team asked if he was interested in volunteering for the clinical trial, which was designed by researchers at the Wilmot Cancer Institute.
Anderson agreed, and at the start of 2016 he began a cocktail of four chemotherapy drugs coupled with an experimental drug known as CCX872-B in pill form that he takes twice a day. He recently received his 72nd infusion and will continue on this plan indefinitely.
“The mass on my liver was the size of an orange and now they tell me there’s just one small spot left on a lymph node, but it’s not even large enough to see,” Anderson says.
The clinical trial was designed for patients with locally advanced or metastatic pancreatic cancer. The experimental drug selectively targets a molecular receptor known as CCR2 on inflammatory cells. CCR2 plays a vital role in cancer progression and also prevent the immune system from attacking cancer cells.
The goal was to find out if the treatment could control tumor growth. It did achieve the goal for 78 percent of 35 patients for three months. More than 40 percent of patients remained stable at six months.
Anderson says he has tolerated the treatment well, as did the majority of the other patients. He didn’t lose his hair as a result of chemo, but he does experience fatigue when he’s overly active. He has a lot of friends and acquaintances in town who pray for him, he adds, and strong family support. His mother, Susan, and brother, Aaron, accompany him to Wilmot for therapy every three weeks.
His view of life has changed. In the beginning he was very scared.
“I googled it and for 10 seconds I read about it. I saw something like a 5-percent survival, and I didn’t even want to look anymore,” Anderson says. “And at that point, I just decided I would go along with whatever they offered me.”
Long-term survivorship from a disease that most people succumb to in a matter of months stirs some mixed emotions.
“One of the hardest things to deal with mentally is that not everyone has the same go of it,” he says. “That really hurts.”
Anderson is the last person to remain on the pancreatic cancer clinical trial. “We’re just going to keep on keepin’ on,” he says. “If I’ve inspired anyone, well, I’m glad to hear that.”