Open Access advocate and 16-year-old Open Scie...

Jack Andraka (Photo credit: Open Science Federation)

Tonight, on 60 Minutes there was a story about a 15-year-old science prodigy who is working on a way to detect early the presence of pancreatic cancer in patients. Most of the time, patients, like myself, discover they have pancreatic cancer after it has already metastasized to another organ in addition to the pancreas.

This young man’s name is Jack Andraka. The story on 60 Minutes focused on how this teenager, who has a long-time love of science, had lost a friend/relative to pancreatic cancer and decided he wanted to develop tools that would help doctors detect pancreatic cancer early before this cancer moved to other organs.

He apparently developed his approach, put it into a proposal and sent it to over 100 cancer research organizations. Only one, MDAnderson in Houston, Texas, decided to give the young man a try.

He has had some remarkable results, which in turn has turned him into a celebrity, of sorts — four times to the White House this year alone. But his approach for early detection is showing some tremendous promise.

If you want to learn more about Jack and how he has proceeded thus far, click on the link below for the story on 60 Minutes Overtime. Congratulations to Jack and his very supportive parents.

Folks, the link below is to an article in the NYTimes today about a cancer conference taking place in Chicago that is touting the importance of the immune system in fighting cancer and some breakthroughs that are happening. This appears to give strong credence to the statement that the immune system can play an important role in fighting cancer. This is what I have been doing for the last 32 months.

A LITTLE BACKGROUND: I was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer on September 20, 2010 in Chicago. The very next day, at an appointment with a Chicago oncologist, the doctor told me that if I didn’t start his suggested cocktail of chemo drugs that day, I would be dead by Christmas. Well, it’s June 2013, and I am writing this, not some impersonator.

I got a second opinion from MDAnderson, a cancer center of excellence in Houston shortly thereafter. MDAnderson was not as adamant about the speed for starting the chemo as they were certain that neither surgery nor radiation would help me. Chemo would extend my life perhaps a couple of months or so.

Over the course of the next few weeks or so, Patti and I met with five oncologists. We were living in Dallas by then (having left Chicago behind to be closer to family). Every oncologist recommended chemo, but every one differed on what the chemo drugs should be used. Gemzar was somewhat universal.

My brother-in-law, Bill, suggested that I meet with a holistic practitioner to supplement whatever decision I made about pursuing chemo. Bill was fighting melanoma, using Julia, the holistic practitioner, to supplement his periodic visits to MDAnderson to monitor his fight. Julia said to me after a few initial visits: “If you are so committed to going the chemo route, can you at least give me three months to build up your immune system before you start the process of introducing chemo poisons to your system?” As a holistic provider, Julia was certainly no fan of chemo drugs.

Something about what she asked and the following conversations just made sense to me. I put off the chemo and began pursuing the building up of my immune system and following my faith. This involved quite a variety of vitamin and nutritional supplements, changing nutritional habits (swearing off red meat and carbonated beverages), experiencing a variety of light therapies designed to disrupt cancer cell duplication. Sometimes this meant 4-5 trips to visit Julia a week, some visits lasting from 30 minutes to a few hours. And, absolutely none of this was covered by any insurance.

But, Patti and I were fortunate to have enough to pay for these treatments. We are blessed.

THIS ARTICLE TODAY: At the conference in Chicago, various doctors and researchers are saying that it could be the immune system is more important than originally thought in fighting carcinogenic cell reproduction in the body. Of course, the article mentions that a few of the most powerful drug companies are working on clinical trials with a variety of immuno-related drugs that could replace chemo drugs. One researcher even went so far to mention that immune-related therapies could even replace chemo — certainly not without major pharmaceutical help.

When I read this article, I was near tears. When I was going through the immune build-up with Julia, it just seemed obscene that I could not get any of her treatments approved by insurance. Don’t get me wrong, I believe there is a role for the drug companies, but there are roles for a variety of different approaches. I am just ecstatic that these clinical trials, while self-promoting drug company solutions, may soon find a place nestled comfortably among cancer-ridding solutions. Thank you, Lord!

I am also including here some links to some other recent articles about this latest development,

If you read the NYTimes article below, be sure to read the comments about “cancer tails.” God bless you all and your families

Promising New Cancer Drugs Empower the Body’s Own Defense System


The drugs work by unleashing the immune system to attack cancer cells, much as it attacks bacteria or other foreign invaders in the human body

Related articles

Years ago, as a freshman at Southwest Texas State University, i was in school in San Marcos but had been dating a girl from Houston, my hometown. SWT, back then, was known as a suitcase college, meaning that there was nothing to do on the weekend, so go home (wherever home was) and spend it there.

The girl I was dating, Connie, was attending Stephen F. Austin State University, in Nacogdoches, so we weren’t going to be spending many weekends in either San Marcos or Nacogdoches. And, as a 19-year old guy, when Connie was happy, so was I. To that end, Connie probably had a love for music that was likely a little “headier” than mine. That summer, before school started, she and I had gone to quite a few concerts in Houston.

When I tell you “who” we saw, you’ll get a chuckle: The Supremes, the Beach Boys, the Association (Windy), Peter, Paul & Mary, The Turtles, Janis Joplin, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, we saw ’em all. Remember, tickets back then were about $2 for very good seats. I can’t tell you how many times I would end up on 1st or 2nd rows.

Sunshine Superman himself

Sunshine Superman himself

But there was one performer that Connie just absolutely loved and I sorta liked: Donovan Leitch. As I look back on it now, he had some very good songs, I just never put it all together till now. For his concert that summer, we had 2nd row center seats at Houston’s Music Hall. On the stage were nothing but two rugs some microphones and incense burning. And, of course, we had to wear love beads because Donovan was, after all, a peaceful fellow. I also wore a Nehru jacket. If you know what that is, I’m sorry for you AND me. If you don’t recall Donovan’s hits, they included Mellow Yellow, Atlantis, Sunshine Superman, There is a Mountain, Jennifer Juniper, Wear Your Love Like Heaven, Season of the Witch, Mellow Yellow, Catch the Wind and Lalena.

Now, come to think of it, he had quite a few hits. So, where is all this going?

December and "Mellow Yellow"

December and “Mellow Yellow”

In December, I was having loads of nausea, an intimate acquaintance of the toilet. The docs wanted to put in a stent in the bile duct, so the liver could get some relief and waste could exit normally. But while we were waiting to get the stent in, I kept losing weight and my skin color was increasingly jaundiced. Everything was yellow. Family did call me mellow yellow. And I was yellow, including the whites of my eyes. I was starting to get a bit alarmed.

In the "pink" after stent recovery

In the “pink” after stent recovery

So while I was in the hospital for the stent, we occasionally would hum “they call me mellow yellow.” We had a lot of fun with that. After the stent was placed, the rest of December was primarily recovering from the stent. My chest was hurting and I couldn’t sleep. But we’ve made that adjustment: the chest no longer hurts, the yellow has disappeared and, by all accounts, things are getting better. I’m putting on a little weight. I have no nausea and no one is calling me “mellow yellow” these days, which is a real gift.

Oh, also, that Donovan concert was very good. Haven’t the foggiest idea what Connie is doing these days.

If you’d like to get reacquainted with Donovan, click on the link that follows:

Last week, I went for a couple days down to Houston to visit my mother. Since last June she has been back and forth between hospital and skilled nursing facility.

Well, it’s a little over 240  miles between our place in Dallas and Houston. For Patti, a three-hour drive. For me, four.

Since Patti was staying behind to take care of some things in Dallas, I decided to forego the radio and take my iPod to listen to for the ride down there. Lately, I seem to notice when I see other drivers with their earbuds. Made sense. Rather than change radio stations routinely passing in and out of range during the trip, I could have all my favorite artists playing away while leisurely driving down to the Bayou City.

It was truly a spectacular drive. Along the way, I saw all the usual roadside signs, telling me that McDonalds and Exxon were at the next exit, signs talking about Jesus being the answer, signs suggesting we stop for barbecue at Bubba’s, Rudy’s or various other male proprietors. Apparently, EEOC has not yet received enough complaints from the Trixies, Bettys or Beulahs who would like to name a barbecue place after themselves.

And there were the porn notices, too. For example, just outside Dallas, heading south on I45, there is a “gentleman’s club” called Wispers. Of course, my first thought was, “Dumbass. Whispers has an h.” But as I passed the empty parking lot, I reminded myself that folks who go there probably don’t give a hoot whether the name is spelled right or not. Silly me.

Also, I particularly liked the billboard with the Biblical scripture that extolled people to turn away from pornography. And, that billboard was about 30 yards BEFORE you got to Jim’s Adult Video Emporium.

Bluebonnets along a Texas road

But, in addition to the iPod, there was one thing that made the trip memorable throughout the distance. Texas bluebonnets and other wildflowers, like Indian Paintbrush, were in full bloom. In this state, the bluebonnets bloom in Spring on the embankments and medians of the freeways of Texas roads and highways.

When they bloom, they are truly glorious in their beauty. It’s as if during the Winter, God comes down to Earth and sprinkles the roads with the seeds for these majestic flowers to bloom to everybody’s delight in the Spring. In the past, when I’ve traveled over Texas roads, I have stopped to just watch the bluebonnets sway tenderly in the wind.

There is a place on 290 near Brenham, Texas, between Austin and Houston, which is known to have bluebonnets blooming all around that city. Mostly on weekends, you will see the embankments around Brenham with all sort of “dents” in the wildflowers, where adoring parents have planted their children for pictures in the flowers. Happens all the time in Spring.

In this one particular spot near Brenham, there are several acres of bluebonnets. If you quickly glance at this particular spot while driving by, you would swear that there was a lake in the middle of that field. Do a double take and you realize it is bluebonnets.

Lady Bird and her legacy

Bluebonnets and other Texas wildflowers have been around for ages. However, whatever your thoughts of LBJ as a president, perhaps his greatest gift to America was his wife, Lady Bird. While occupying the White House, Lady Bird made it her mission to plant the wildflowers everywhere and increase the beauty across America they bring year after year.

After leaving the White House, Lady Bird continued her commitment to spread wildflowers wherever possible. Wherever Patti and I have lived, we’ve tried to plant bluebonnets at our homes. In some locations they did well. In others, like Ohio, unfortunately, they did not like the cold.

As I moved further south along I45, past Huntsville, there is a huge statue of Sam Houston, an important Texas history figure. This statue is approximately 100-120 feet high, so it’s no small statue. It’s right beside the freeway. And, there were the bluebonnets cascading across the embankments and median like so many vowels, consonants and syllables spread in beautiful calligraphy across a blank page.

If you have the chance to drive across any of Texas’ main roads during the Spring, you will not miss the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes.

Thank you, Lady Bird. What a truly magnificent legacy to have.