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Preparing for the Parps

10 Aug

I’ve used the term “roller coaster” several times to describe my bumpy  pancreatic cancer fight. A couple of days ago, two of my daughters danced into my room while I was resting , delighted with news they couldn’t wait to share: “Positive progress on the Parps. Abbott Laboratories[1] are starting Phase 2 trials – and it seems that you’ll be getting their drug”. Good news indeed.

Bad news is absolute – but this news left me stunned. For so long Pam has talked about the Parps as being the “game changer” while I’ve tried to temper her enthusiasm with what she saw as cynicism. I found the good news hard to digest. The concept of stopping chemotherapy for something better – that has “no side effects” – is too much to process. The belief that a cure will come keeps me going – yet just as it seems that we’re one step closer, I still can find no reason to celebrate. Inexplicable.

To think that Abbott is a corporation that grossed nearly US$ 40 billion last year – about a sixth of Israel’s total gross domestic product. That Abbott spent more than US$ 4 billion on research in 2011 – almost as much as Israel’s entire Ministry of Health budget. But it has brought them to Phase 2 trials of their drug Veliparib[2].

Veliparib, or ABT-888, is an orally active poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase potent inhibitor of both PARP-1 and PARP-2 that potentiates DNA-damaging agents in preclinical tumors. In the MX-1 breast model (BRCA1 deletion and BRCA2 mutation), it causes regression of established tumors, whereas with comparable doses of cytotoxic agents alone, only modest tumor inhibition was exhibited. Veliparib has been around since 2008 when trials first started for metastatic or unresectable solid tumors or non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Abbott’s trial version is specifically directed at pancreatic cancer suffers with the BRCA2 mutation.

I’m certainly no scientist, nor do I profess to have a working knowledge of these drugs. But I can recommend any and everyone that has pancreatic cancer to test whether they are a BRCA2 carrier. If so, contact Memorial Sloane Kettering, who are running the trials, (or Tel Hashomer Hospital, if you’re in Israel or your national oncology facility).

I was sitting outside my oncologist’s waiting room on Wednesday, waiting to hear more details of her breaking news the day before. Inevitably I flipped through my phone’s inbox to find an e-mail blinking. To be a messanger of bad news is not easy. A pancreatic cancer sufferer I tried to help had passed away. I couldn’t hold back the tears.

I’ve looked back to see if I mentioned him in a previous blog. On 20th May, 2012, I made a reference to him. He was my source of the trial I referred to in that blog. And here I was waiting for news of another trial.

I looked myself in the mirror this morning and seemed to perceive that my hair has slightly grown back. Is it just longer or is it the result of stopping Abraxane? I can’t wait to find out. 



[1]   Abbott’s website is worth a visit. Click on

[2]  I haven’t found any information through Abbott Laboratories but can direct you to for more information.


Back in Business?

10 Jul

I’ve been back more than a week from the most enjoyable holiday in South Africa. And since then I’ve had two treatments – but pen just doesn’t seem drawn to paper. By keeping this blog solely to the subject of fighting pancreatic cancer, I’ve tip-toed round the temptation of sharing the SA superlatives with you.

I’ve always believed that if there’s nothing worth saying – don’t say anything at all. I’d like to update you on what’s new – but nothing is coming easily at the moment. There’s lots in the pipeline. Firstly, there was a fascinating documentary programme  on TV last week about Hanan Elraz,  a local researcher. The clip is in Hebrew only and shows how this enterprising individual may have come up with another discovery – a herbal cure for cancer. Apparently, according to the TV programme, he’s been accredited internationally with a couple of other discoveries in other fields. He maintains you have to go back to nature and has come up with a natural “potion”. He recently reached the headlines because of his success in treating two high-profile cancer sufferers (type of cancer not mentioned). The two were both close to giving up all treatment and hope. They are now in “remission”. In the programme, Elraz made it clear he’s not looking for more guinea pigs at the moment. He’s looking for an (Israeli) hospital to take his “potion” and research it independently. The link is .

The second development is in the field of nuclear medicine. Apparently Dr Adi Dahan, of the Nahal Soreq Nuclear Medical Research Facility, is having some sort of breakthrough research for pancreatic cancer, with a product called 177 Lu Dota Tate.  Apparently, DOTA-TATE, DOTATATE or DOTA-octreotate is a substance which, when bound to various radionuclides, has been tested for the treatment and diagnosis of certain types of cancer, mainly neuroendocrine tumours. It directs radioactivity into the tumour. It has supposedly just become available in North America in Houston on clinical trial.  I’m following it up, but have yet to make contact with Dr Dahan. Any help or knowledge on the subject out there?

And finally, we are still hopeful that at some point I’ll get onto the Parp Inhibitors. But trial details inIsrael (not to mention timetable) haven’t been published.

So am I back in business? I’m still on Gemzar and Abraxane but the usual side effects seem to be peaking at higher up-sides but lower down-sides. The so satisfying trip to SA on the up-side, but continuing hair-loss and other nasties on the other.

Today, really close friends are coming from overseas to stay – so the fight has to continue. 



What a Difference a Day Makes

18 Jun

This time last week I would’ve been having the third and last of my current series of Abraxane. Only I moved the treatment a day forward to give me more time to recover before our trip to South Africa– for a wedding.

What a difference a day makes. Fortunately, the flight to South Africa went well and landed me in a different world. From the heat of Israel to the cold of Johannesburg. But what a warm reception! We were met with pure love and joy by truly special friends – the parents of the bride. And we’ve been treated like royalty ever since.

How happy I am that Pam and I were again blessed with the ability to travel. I knew what a challenge the trip would be. For a day or two after landing something seemed not quite right. I can’t explain. But going to a wedding of dear friends provided me with the incentive to take up that challenge; attending happy occasions is what life should be about. And the change of surrounds has been far better than any rest – or regular break from chemo.

What could be better than the luxury of Illovo? Wide, broad avenues of quiet and seeming tranquillity. Houses that require a re-definition of palaces. The frenetics of a full day chemo replaced by the hospitality of friends. And best of all – a pampering for Pam. I’d like to think of the trip as a special thank you for Pam. So far we’ve been simply spoilt – largely because of the massive goodwill generated by my late in-laws. They were a very special couple whose kindness and generosity seemed to know no bounds.

Fighting pancreatic cancer is a full time job. I’ve always known the importance of giving myself goals – including, in my case, continuing to make travel plans; anything to keep lethargy from creeping in.

Such is the nature of this illness. You just don’t know where you stand – yet have to live with it and keep going.

Independence Day

25 Apr

Tonight will usher in Israel’s 64th Independence Day. Israel will morph movingly from solemnly commemorating its fallen soldiers to celebrating the miracle of the modern State. While so-called “Human Rights” activists around the world have selectively chosen Israel for what they call BDS (Boycott, Disinvestment, Sanctions), any caring person would have to ask: “Why, despite Israel’s many faults, those activists cannot recognize serially worse offending States and campaign for their citizens who have no rights at all? Israel’s defenders would alternatively call that political agenda and anti-Semitic campaign: Blood-libel, Distortion, Slander.

I still see Israel as a land of miracles, flowing with milk and honey. Only my ketogenic diet precludes the milk and honey. I’ll settle for a personal miracle.

This Independence Day has brought The Beatles back to the fore – in particular their song “When I’m 64”. It starts, of course, with those happy lines:

“When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now,

Will I still be sending you a Valentine,

Birthday greetings, bottle of wine”.

I’m looking forward to being 64 in November, and I’m OK with the Valentine surprise, birthday sonnet and even a glass of red wine now and again. But losing my hair, many years from now? Not unless I invoke the words of Nankki-poo from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Mikado”:

“We’ll call each second a minute – each minute an hour – each hour a day – each day a year. At that rate we’ve about thirty years of married happiness before us”!

Only in my case, if Abraxane is working, let my hair fall out thirty years from now.

To the world I say, be objective, recognize democracy and independence.

Happy Independence Day.. .  .   .


But having mentioned The Beatles – I must go down memory lane. To 1964 – when I saw The Beatles live at The Hammersmith Odeon. An unforgettable experience, as alive today as it was live then. I remember recalling that experience at a work convention in Israel- where each participant was asked to present himself and describe one moment of personal greatness. Almost all the other participants recalled heroic war action, which I found both amazing and personally humbling. I continued my presentation by saying that I couldn’t decide which experience was greater – the Beatles concert, or attending the World Cup Final at Wembley in 1966. My stories won first and second prize. But that’s a different story.



Hancock’s Half Hour

14 Apr

Every time I think of blood – obviously donations but transfusions as well – I think of Tony Hancock’s unforgettable sketch, “The Blood Donor”[1]. And Hancock was exactly the person I thought of the moment I was told I needed a blood transfusion during my latest Abraxane treatment last Monday.

Funny thing, the brain – and thought transference. Which again reminds me of one of my favourite quotes – this time from Woody Allen: “Amazing thing the brain. For most people, it works from the moment you wake up – till you get to work”. Back to my blog. They tell me I need a blood transfusion. My hemoglobin count was too low. What I didn’t realize was that not all transfusions have the same affect. A healthy person, for example, in some sort of incident requiring blood, would have little problem in receiving multiple portions. In my case, my body is at high risk – apparently at a much greater risk of rejecting the blood.

But my thoughts didn’t immediately rush to the whys and wherefores of the need. I thought of Hancock and his inimitable lines. For those not around in those days back in the Sixties – and who were not lucky enough to have heard the still hysterical show, I have to share a few of his lines, such as “God gave me eight pints – I need eight pints” or “I don’t mind giving a reasonable amount, but a pint! That’s very nearly an armful!” or “Can I have my tea and biscuits” (after his finger was pricked for a blood test). How the world has changed. I wonder if people find that sort of humour funny nowadays – or could even listen to comedy shows on the radio, or watch that sort of entertainment on TV today?

My life has changed as well – as has Pam’s. I didn’t actually imagine that Pam would be charged with the task of running around Tel Hashomer to bring the blood. But that’s what happened – and she didn’t even faint! The learning process goes on. I’m “A” Rhesus positive (“Rhesus? They’re monkeys aren’t they?”). Having donated blood regularly for years, it was only this week that I found out what blood group I am. Does having the Rhesus factor improve my chances of survival?

So I had the transfusion – nice and slowly. Drip by drip just to make sure there was no adverse reaction – or maybe to ensure that it was another interminable day at Tel Hashomer.

But hey, they told me a blood transfusion would put my energy levels up – and it did. ‘Bloody marvellous!   

[1] “The Blood Donor” was an episode from the BBC comedy series featuring British comedian Tony Hancock. First transmitted on 23 June 1961, the show was written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson.

Surviving Pancreatic Cancer

8 Apr

As the holiday season advances, I realise I have two other reasons to celebrate. Firstly, it’s now almost a year and a half since diagnosis and secondly my blog seems to be growing in momentum – more readers from more exotic places.

It’s exciting to see someone has clicked in from Chile– or from places as improbable as Papua New Guinea or thePhilippines. And that people have shown interest from Indonesia to Italy. So be it. I have no idea who they are, but assuming they are interested in treatment for pancreatic cancer I thought it might just be time to give some sort of interim report.


I’m now on my new chemotherapy regime of Gemcitobene and Abraxane. Tomorrow will be the third treatment, then I get a week’s break. This will hopefully be the pattern for the foreseeable future, especially as the side effects have fortunately been minimal thus far. The threat of hair loss and worsening neuropathy still hang heavily over my head.

This latest regime replaced my short tangle with Tarceva. I survived six weeks of Gemcitobene with a daily dose of one Tarceva pill. Although the treatment seemed to be working, I simply couldn’t stand the side effects.

The change to Tarceva followed almost a year on “5FU” – a cocktail of Folfirinox, Oxalyplatine and Irinotecan. How user-friendly it now seems to have been on a regime that my treatment was every other week – interspersed with a week’s break here and there.


I’m still clinging religiously to my ketogenic diet. To remind you, it’s a diet of no carbohydrates (pasta, potato, rice, etc for the uninitiated), no fruit, nothing containing sugar – nor cakes or biscuits! If you’re having trouble not eating bread this week, bread is something that hasn’t passed my lips since January last year!  (For the reader who enquired about courgettes – yes! They’re allowed.) 

Daily Medication & Food Supplements:

Everything listed I take daily with meals – with the exception of Ompradex, which I take an hour before breakfast and dinner:

Omepradex Caplets (Omeprazole 1 x 20mg before breakfast & dinner) 

–  Manufacturer: Dexcel Pharma Ltd, OrAkiva,Israel

–  Purpose: Inhibiting acid secretion in the gastrointestinal tract.

Metformin Hydrochloride (Glucomin 2 x 850mg; 1 morning/1 evening)

 – Manufacturer: Dexcel Pharma Ltd, OrAkiva,Israel

 – Purpose: Antidiabetic to reduce sugar levels

Pankreoflat (Pancreatin [Amylase, Lipase, Proteases & Simethicone] 3 x daily

– Manufacturer: Solvay-Faes Farma SA,Spain

 – Purpose: Relief of abdominal distension due to cumulative gas & foam.

Curcumin (3 x 500mg with every meal)

– Manufacturer: VRP Brand, LLC,Carson City,NV89706,USA

Omega 3 (1 x 300mg with every meal)

– Manufacturer: Ocean Nutrition,Bedford,Nova Scotia,Canada

Pro-biotic (1 x 450mg with every meal)

– Manufacturer: Supherb, UpperNazereth,Israel

Calcium & Magnesium – ratio 2:1(1 x 300mg at breakfast and dinner)

– Manufacturer: Solgar,Leonia,NJ07605,USA

Multi-vitamin (1 x 150mg at breakfast and dinner)

– Manufacturer:Contrex Pharmaceutical,New York,USA


Hopefully I’m still helpful to fellow sufferers out there…







Lots to Celebrate

5 Apr

I have lots to celebrate. First of all, the holiday season is upon us again. Passover coincides with Easter – and whatever your persuasion – enjoy.

I must say that I had doubts that I would participate in last year’s Seder. This year I just feel blessed. And a great part of my good feeling – psychologically, if not always physically – is realizing how kind people are to me. The kindness manifests itself in so many ways. There are those who phone or e-mail. Those who take the trouble to bring me succulents that go directly to my stomach – and instantly help my well-being. I’ve been brought cheeses – even been charmed by home-made camembert. And biltong and berries. And meats and meals all made with ketogenic care. Food for thought indeed.

Kindness takes the cake. There have been so many examples – yesterday there was another one. A friend actually went to the trouble of contacting one of my life-time likes – West Ham United Football Club – and he was rewarded with an autographed photo of the players and an accompanying letter. These, he brought round in a surprise visit which caught me in a complete quandary. Abraxane had laid me low. Two days after my second treatment I’d “hit the wall” and I didn’t think myself capable of getting out of bed. Pam would have been perfectly capable of explaining my incapacity – and my visitor is too much of a gentleman to be intrusive.

Kindness is a therapy in a class of its own. I popped a Percocet[1] to relieve myself of some pain – and then was uplifted by the double act of kindness. Visits are so nice – but when so many of you are so thoughtful and so caring, I feel it is you who are carrying me through this ordeal.

I’ve been lucky enough to experience the same kindnesses before. Only this time the blog allows to me to cyberspace my thanks.

I’m still not on Facebook  – because there’s no substitute for “face to face”.

Happy Holidays to you all.     



[1] Percocet is a prescription drug. It’s a Paracetamol with Oxycodone, an opiate analgesic. It’s a local drug manufactured by Taro Pharmaceutical Industries,Haifa.

If it was only as easy as ABC – Abraxane, Ben, Children…

27 Mar

The abdominal pains I’ve been suffering told me to go to hospital sooner rather than later. On Monday I was scheduled to start my new treatment – but Pam prevailed upon me to go on Sunday. This is how it panned out.

Tel Hashomer has an oncology doctor on call – saving sufferers the added discomfort of unnecessary queuing and quibbling. Call me “Ben” says the young man. You know you’re getting old not when the body lets you down but when the doctors don’t seem old enough to have finished school. I briefly tell him my case history – and smile to myself as he raises his eyebrows when I date my diagnosis as October 2010. He seems extremely competent and caring – but couldn’t confirm whether my pain was a direct cause of the illness or side effects of Tarceva. “At least you’ve done with Tarceva”, he says encouragingly, but can’t allay my concern. His best effort is to prescribe better pain killers – and give me the all-clear to start Abraxane.

Good that new beginnings fill me with optimism. But on what is it based? Do I have any idea of the side effects in the offing? When and where they’ll kick in? And I have to get the naïveté that everything will be better into some prospective. Not easy. Is it such a wonder drug or is it only so much wishful  thinking? What I am learning is that the my oncology department doesn’t seem to have too much first hand experience with pancreatic cancer patients on Abraxane – it’s certainly not in our Ministry of Health’s basket of medicines – so I might be on the cutting edge again. But we manage the administrative hurdles and I had the first treatment on Sunday. So far so good…

But now comes the crunch – the children. It seems that whatever age your children – the accuracy of their perception can surprise you. No hiding my pain and no hiding yet another change of treatment. Their concern moves me to tears and emphasizes yet again what a strain this illness is on the whole family. But this gives us all strength as well … so maybe things will be easier.

As usual, the family have rallied round. Sheila came up with the idea that the recent addition to my diet of “bread” may have been too much too soon. So I’ve cut back for the moment – and happily, the first couple of days have me almost back to my old self.