By Libby Rosequist
Julie Rice of Ripley, N.Y., was diagnosed with advanced stage 4 pancreatic cancer in August 2016 at the Cleveland Clinic Main Campus, Cleveland, Ohio.
Now, just over four years later she is miraculously cancer free.
Julie and her husband Don Rice went through a lengthy process to find the right fit of doctors and treatments to get where she is today.
“We want to share our experience to possibly reach out to as many people as possible to give hope to anyone facing cancer, and for their families and friends who are so important yet often forgotten as their caregivers,” Don said.
During the first of many surgeries for Julie to remove what they originally thought was ovarian cysts, Don was faced with a difficult decision.
“The doctor explained instead of cysts, he found her ovaries were consumed with cancer,” Don said. “We waited for pathology to confirm but he had been doing this a very long time and he was confident not only was it was cancer, but that the origin would be her pancreas. It had spread throughout the majority of her body and I needed to decide if he should proceed with the surgery to determine the origin or, since it was likely stage 4 pancreatic cancer and she only had a very short time to live, he should sew her back up and make her comfortable.”
Knowing if they did not attempt to find the origin it would lessen their chance to treat the cancer, Don decided to continue with the surgery. The doctor confirmed the cancer originated in the pancreas and this was the beginning of a long journey for the Rice family.
Julie’s full diagnosis was metastatic pancreatic adenocarcinoma with peritoneal carcinomatosis, which originated in the neck area.
Julie never let her cancer get her down too far and never give in on her treatments.
She chose the most aggressive chemotherapy option available, Folfirinox.
“After completing her 12th Folfirinox treatment I remember asking the doctor if this wasn’t a little unusual,” Don said. “Julie came out of the treatments stronger, gained weight and had hiked and snowshoed 188 miles to that point on our farm. He said it was remarkably rare.”
With such unusual circumstances, the Rices were forced to find continued treatment with other doctors due to the rarity of her treatment results.
“We felt surely there would be some plan that worked for someone else, but quickly found we were in extremely rare territory and Julie was the one who would end up blazing the new path for herself, and hopefully other patients in a similar situation,” Don said.
After many hours of research Julie found a doctor in Rochester, Minn., who had developed a new procedure to treat pancreatic cancer.
“It was perfect timing when Julie contacted this doctor because he had tested the procedure and was ready to move on to stage 4 pancreatic cancer patients. Julie was the perfect fit,” Don said.
This new treatment was long and difficult and involved numerous surgical procedures, but Julie is now cancer free and likely to become the first patient cured of stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
Julie goes back to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for CT scans and follow-up meetings with the surgical team every three months and has remained disease free for more than a year now.
Her results will be published and the Mayo Clinic has started brand new clinical trials because of Julie’s success.
Julie is now four years and two months past diagnosis and has hiked and snowshoed more than 1,400 miles.
She still has her pancreas and it is functioning normally. Her blood work is 100% normal for noncancer patients and she is no longer considered a cancer patient. She is on no medications and is essentially back to normal life.
Julie gave the Mayo Clinic permission to do research on her and the samples of blood and tissue biopsies she provided.
“When we were given her diagnosis, we were given no hope,” Don aid. “Despite that, Julie persevered, and now we are trying to spread hope wherever we can. We know what it is like, how it feels and that it is OK to be scared. But don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and never take no as the final answer without exhausting all options first.”