by Doug Murray
My sister’s diagnosis
My sister passed away from breast cancer in 2009. She was the first in our family to undergo genetic testing and learn that she had a BRCA1 mutation. I was not tested at the time of her mutation diagnosis because the data I read suggested there was only a slight increase in risk for certain male cancers. In hindsight, this decision was not a good one.
My own diagnosis
I had a long history of gall bladder issues and assumed in December 2017 that the symptoms I was experiencing were more of the same. At my annual physical exam, I mentioned this to my physician. Lab tests showed some suspicious indicators, and follow-up tests found stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Genetic testing indicated that like my sister, I had inherited my family’s BRCA1 mutation.
Had I known about my BRCA1 mutation sooner, I could have worked more closely with my healthcare providers to create a surveillance program that may have detected my cancer earlier, providing even more treatment options and a better prognosis.
My family history
I assume that my mother, who passed away from breast cancer in 2006, had the same BRCA1 mutation my sister and I inherited. There was additional cancer on her side of the family, but we can’t be entirely certain, as my dad died in 2007 from prostate cancer when he was 90 years old.
First treatment protocol
Upon my diagnosis, I went through a first-level chemo regimen that showed significant effect for seven to eight months before it began to fail. We then went to surgical radiation of the liver tumor that appeared to be growing rapidly. That had a positive effect, and I began a second-level platinum chemo drug. The goal was to demonstrate a positive response to the platinum regimen, which was a requirement to qualify for the PARP inhibitor protocol believed to be my best option. After two rounds, the results allowed me to move on to the preferred treatment.
PARP Inhibitor treatment was impressive
I was the first, and still to my knowledge the only, pancreatic cancer patient at the UCHealth Cancer Center at the Harmony Campus in Fort Collins, Colorado to start PARP inhibitor treatment. The results have been impressive. I have maintained my tumor markers within the “normal” range for over 18 months. I have very minor side effects that are infinitely better than what I experienced with traditional chemotherapy.
Mine was a grim prognosis. The BRCA mutation, generally thought to be really bad news, turned out to be a significant advantage once I developed cancer, because it gave me access to newly developed therapies—namely PARP inhibitors—that are currently only available for pancreatic cancer in people with an inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation.
FORCE is for men too
I joined the FORCE community to reach out to men with genetic mutations and hereditary cancer. We need more men to engage in the FORCE community, because half of all people with inherited mutations are men. My hope is that more men will take advantage of the range of resources available through FORCE. These cancers can be treated and sometimes prevented if one devotes themselves to one’s recovery.