Featured Voice: Anthony Rafaniello and his Battle with Pancreatic Cancer

My journey with pancreatic cancer began approximately six years ago, when I had five episodes of pancreatitis.

Anthony Rafaniello with his grandchildren

Anthony Rafaniello with his grandchildren

In May of 2016 I had a bout of pancreatitis that put me in the hospital for 30 days. Ten of those days were spent on a respirator and in a battle for my life. I had a long recovery including time in a rehabilitation center. I continued to have constant nausea and discomfort, and I lost 40 pounds. My doctor in New Jersey recommended that I go to the Pancreas Center at Columbia University Irving Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian in New York City. I saw Dr. John Poneros, who diagnosed me with necrotizing pancreatitis. My pancreas was surrounded by fluid. After a series of endoscopies and placement of stents to drain the fluid, I gradually began to feel like myself. I continued to have annual checkups at Columbia/NewYork-Presbyterian with Dr. Poneros who advised me to inform him of any changes in my health.

Problems Return

In February of this year, I developed flu-like symptoms that lasted a few weeks, and I lost 12 pounds. I contacted Dr. Poneros who immediately ordered a CT scan and blood work. The results came a couple of days after the test and indicated a small growth on the pancreas. A week later, I had an endoscopy and biopsy.

Shortly after the procedure, I was notified that I had to see the surgeon, Dr. Beth Schrope. I saw Dr. Schrope in March, and was told that my surgery would take place on March 23. The plan was to remove the growth through laparoscopic surgery. I showed up at the hospital in the middle of the pandemic. My wife, daughter, and grandson dropped me off at the hospital, and I didn’t see any visitors until my discharge on April 2.

Major Surgery and a Treatment Plan

The surgery was successful, but unfortunately, I had to have major surgery due to the location of the tumor. My spleen and part of my stomach, colon, pancreas, and 36 lymph nodes were removed. The small cancerous tumor was removed and the lymph nodes that were removed were non-cancerous.

After meeting with my team of doctors, which included Dr. Poneros, Dr. Schrope, and my oncologist, Dr. Gulam Manji, I was advised of my options. I trust this team with my life, and I listened to what they had to say. I chose chemotherapy.

I recently finished my ninth treatment and things have gone relatively well. I feel fortunate that side effects have been manageable, with some nausea and neuropathy in my hands and feet. I’m on a biweekly chemotherapy regimen and was supposed to have 12 treatments. However, Dr. Manji has decided to discontinue the chemotherapy at this time, because the risks are not worth the rewards.

I truly feel blessed that my diagnosis was caught at such an early stage. I’ve been told that happens only 10 to 15 percent of the time. With such a great team at Columbia/NewYork-Presbyterian, doctors, and a strong faith in God, I will beat this cancer and become a survivor.

-Published with permission by Let’sWin! Pancreatic Cancer