To say Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky resident Doug Lange, 63, is always on the go is an understatement.
As a certified public accountant with his own firm, husband, father and grandfather, and frequent traveler, he’s never lacking in activities to keep him busy.
However, in December 2015, an unexpected pancreatic cancer diagnosis stopped him suddenly in his tracks.
"I’m a very lucky guy,” Lange says. "I had absolutely no symptoms. We were skiing in Colorado last Thanksgiving, and my wife and I stayed back to watch some of the grandchildren while the others went out on the slopes. The day after Thanksgiving, I developed what I thought at the time was a stomach bug. When I didn’t get better, I finally went to see what I call a ‘Doc in a Box’ because I thought maybe it was altitude sickness.”
He was told at the clinic that it was most likely altitude sickness but that he should go to the closest emergency room for some more testing.
"They did a CT scan and told me that I had a tumor on my pancreas,” Lange says.
Lange knew he needed to take action so he flew home the next day. He quickly scheduled a CT scan, MRI and a reverse endoscopy. He says he was fortunate to have friends, neighbors, and former classmates that were internists, gastrologists, radiologists or radiation oncologists that became his reference source.
"My next door neighbor’s firm works with the doctors at the UC Health Barrett Cancer Center, and I told him about the tumor,” he says. "He emailed Dr. (William) Barrett (director of the University of Cincinnati Cancer Institute) on a Sunday night, and I had an appointment with Dr. (Syed) Ahmad the next Thursday between procedures.” He then met with Olugbenga Olowokure, MD, or "Dr. Gbenga” to patients, who is a faculty member at the UC College of Medicine and a UC Health oncologist with the UC Cancer Institute, and started chemotherapy the following week.
A biopsy done on the tumor found that Lange had stage IIA pancreatic cancer, meaning that the cancer spread to nearby tissue and organs but not to nearby lymph nodes. Ahmad, MD, director of the division of surgical oncology and professor in the UC College of Medicine, UC Health surgical oncologist and director of the UC Cancer Institute’s Comprehensive Gastrointestinal Cancer Center, thought Lange had a good fighting chance of overcoming it.
"He said, ‘If you put your life in my hands for one year, I can give you the rest of your life back,’” Lange says.
First, he was put on a chemotherapy regimen, which involved six treatments every other week. Lange says that part of the treatment had him down and out. He developed a different infection with each treatment and was admitted to the hospital on numerous occasions.
"I really felt bad—I had no energy,” he says. "However, I had Dr. Gbenga cheering me on and telling me to keep going. Thankfully, with my radiation (which followed the chemotherapy), I didn’t have any complications.”
This portion of the treatment was part of a clinical trial—called the SBRT trial—which looked at a more targeted radiation regimen for patients, potentially helping patients like Lange avoid side effects and shorten the wait for surgery.
"After three to four cycles of chemotherapy, patients undergo stereotactic body radiotherapy, or SBRT, in five treatments over two weeks instead of our conventional treatment which lasts five weeks,” says Jordan Kharofa, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the UC College of Medicine, a UC Health radiation oncologist and a member of the UC Cancer Institute who is leading the trial at UC. SBRT uses a specially-designed coordinate system for the exact localization of the tumor in the body to treat it more precisely; it involves the delivery of more conformal, high-dose radiation treatment or a few fractioned radiation treatments.
"This is more convenient for patients because we’re giving them a higher dose of radiation in a targeted area, allowing them to shrink down the time between treatment and surgery and possibly minimizing the side effects caused by traditional radiation therapy,” he says. "Quality of life for the patient is a big part of this study.”
Kharofa says this trial was used in lung cancer patients previously, but UC is now offering this trial in gastrointestinal cancer patients, and researchers at UC were some of the first in the country to pilot this in pre-clinical trials.
Lange was able to receive the surgery needed to remove the tumor in a quicker time frame, and after six rounds of follow-up chemotherapy, the cancer now appears to be gone.
"I have scans every three months, but so far things are looking good,” he says. "I received pressure from a lot of people to go to some of the big name cancer centers—MD Anderson and Johns Hopkins—but there’s no way I could have done chemotherapy so far from home, and I’m glad I didn’t because I’m here today because of this team.
"The doctors, nurses and everyone on the staff was wonderful, and I couldn’t have asked for better care. They were all unified in my treatment and were always available to help. I had cell phone numbers for the doctors, nurses and pharmacists, and I knew I could call them anytime. I have nothing but good things to say about the humility, talent and expertise of the team at the UC Cancer Institute.”