Camille Moses has a message for oncologists, statistics, and pancreatic cancer: ‘I’m not going home to die.’
In fact, she is in remission.
Five years ago, Camille was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer – one of the most deadly forms of the disease.
The five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is just nine percent. Camille, now 58, is one of that tiny minority – and determined to use her second chance to remind other patients that they could be too.
She had an unheard-of ‘total’ response to the aggressive chemotherapy she was given and now has a new purpose to her life: being living proof that pancreatic cancer patients deserve treatments, funding for better ones and a chance to live.
Camille Moses was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, one of the most deadly forms of the disease in 2012. Five years later, she is one of the very few to be in remission
WHAT IS PANCREATIC CANCER?
Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal forms of the disease.
Around 95 percent of people who contract it die from it.
Steve Jobs, Joan Crawford, Patrick Swayze, and Luciano Pavarotti all died of pancreatic cancer.
It is the fourth-leading killer in the United States.
Around 10,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year in the UK, and 50,000 in the US.
WHAT IS THE CAUSE?
It is caused by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the pancreas – a large gland in the digestive system.
WHO HAS THE HIGHEST RISK?
Most cases (90 percent) are in people over the age of 55.
Around half of all new cases occur in people aged 75 or older.
One in 10 cases are attributed to genetics.
Other causes include age, smoking and other health conditions, including diabetes.
WHY IS IT SO LETHAL?
There is no screening method for pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer typically does not show symptoms in the early stages, when it would be more manageable.
Sufferers tend to start developing the tell-tale signs – jaundice and abdominal pain – around stage 3 or 4, when it has likely already spread to other organs.
WHAT ARE THE SURVIVAL RATES?
For all stages of pancreatic cancer combined, the one-year survival rate is 20 percent.
At five years, that rate falls to just seven percent.
If the cancer is caught in stage 1A, the five year survival rates is about 14 percent and 12 percent for 1B.
At stage 2, those rates are seven and five percent, respectively.
For a pancreatic cancer in its third stage, only three percent of people will survive another five yaers.
By stage IV, the five-year survival rate falls to just one percent.
WHAT ARE THE TREATMENT OPTIONS?
The only effective treatment is removal of the pancreas.
This proves largely ineffective for those whose cancer has spread to other organs.
In those cases, palliative care is advised to ease their pain at the end of their life.
When her long daily walks with her three big babies – her beloved dogs – started hurting her back and leaving her winded, Camille figured that at age 53, it was about time menopause came calling.
But when her pain intensified, she went to the ER where CT scans revealed spots on her pancreas, liver and lungs in March 2012.
The doctor ordered blood tests and a biopsy of her liver. Camille’s heart sank. This was a similar sequence to what had preceded her mother’s death from pancreatic cancer when Camille was just 24.
A few days later, she was back at the hospital for her results. Her diagnosis was the same one that had been the death of her mother: stage IV pancreatic cancer.
Camille started to panic and was given Valium to calm her down. When she came to, an oncologist walked briskly, unceremoniously into her room.
‘When I woke up, I knew I was in trouble. Once the staff oncologist came in, I asked him what that next step was,’ she recalls.
‘He said, “there’s no hope for you. You’ll be gone by November.”
‘My first thought then was Christmas, I thought, “I’m not going to be here for Christmas.” It was devastating. And then he just left, left me with that news.’
Pancreatic cancer strikes 55,000 people a year and 44,000 of them will not survive.
Camille was, of course, convinced she was going to die. But her boyfriend of 17 years, Peter Catallo, daughter Jessie and her friends were not going to let her go so easily. They convinced her to get a second opinion.
When she drove from her home in Hollywood, Florida, for a consultation at the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, Camille was paralyzed by anxiety.
‘Coming into that building was petrifying. I couldn’t walk to the appointment, I was wheeled in, having been told I was going to die and having never heard of anyone surviving it.’
When she did make it into the exam room, she met Dr Caio Max Rocha Lima and his nurses, Jessica and Terri.
‘Once they walked into that room, I felt immediately like I knew I was in the right place,’ Camille says.
Dr Rocha Lima plotted out an explanation of her cancer, why options like surgery were out of the question and what approaches were left for her on big pads of paper.
He was honest and direct, but he wasn’t giving Camille a death sentence. There was one option they could try: a very aggressive form of chemotherapy, called Folforinox.
Camille’s (second from right) boyfriend of 17 years, Peter Castallo (left), and daughter, Jessie (right), urged her to get a second opinion when her first doctor told her she would die of pancreatic cancer as her mother and dog, Bear (center) did
She feels like she has been given a second chance and a new purpose, Camille has become a tireless advocates for pancreatic cancer research through the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, including appearing on ABC News with her ‘crush,’ Ron Claiborne (left)
Camille (center) was treated at the University of Miami, where the athletics helped her celebrate being ‘living proof’ the beating pancreatic cancer is possible
Folforinox is a combination of five chemo drugs, given to patients like Camille who have pancreatic cancer that has spread to other nearby parts of the body.
She started treatment immediately. Over the course of 17 months she was to receive 34 rounds of the potent drug.
‘When I went on it, no one really knew what was going to happen. But in the first three months I was really lucky. We started seeing shrinkage,’ Camille says.
She was still very sick, weak, weighed less than 100lbs and could barely do a lap around her coffee table, but the hope the drug was giving her was even more important than her physical strength to Camille.
‘I thought: “somebody has to beat this cancer. Why not me?”‘ she recalls.
Inspired, she resolved to live her life normally. Even on her way to treatments, Camille did her hair and her makeup and dressed in the clothes she loved.
‘I never let cancer interfere with who I was,’ she says.
Camille kept getting treatments, and her scans kept coming back cleaner.
She finished the 17 months of treatment. Her doctors told Camille she could take a ‘chemo holiday,’ and give her body a little break from the assault of cancer fighting drugs.
That was July 2013. Almost five years later, Camille is still on ‘holiday’ and still cancer free. She no longer even takes pain medication.
Alongside her daughter, Jessie (left) Camille (left) appeared on Good Morning America with Ron Clairborne (center) to talk about pancreatic cancer research
Camille has been in remission for five years and is back to walking and biking to raise money for pancreatic cancer research
‘Basically, the fact that I’m alive is a miracle, and I’m hoping that because I’m not on chemo, I can be the voice for someone who is sitting in that chemo chair, or has passed away,’ Camille says.
‘I’m here, and that’s my new purpose.’
Since going into remission, Camille has gotten her purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, gone back to riding her bike, walking her beloved dogs and has become a tireless advocate for pancreatic cancer research.
‘It’s so important to get research on why [treatment] worked on me, and why it doesn’t work for everyone,’ she says.
Currently, only one percent of national cancer research funding is allocated to pancreatic cancer research.
This week, she attended a national advocacy day in Washington, DC, where she spoke with politicians and met 150 pancreatic cancer survivors.
‘Pancreatic is the cancer that’s been left behind, the bad horrible cancer that killed my mom in 1984. The stats have not changed much since then,’ she says.
Camille says that people still treat the diagnosis like a guarantee of death.
‘They make this face and I would say, “don’t go to my funeral before I’m there.” Everyone assumes you will die, and that’s why [advocacy] is so important,’ she says.
‘I just don’t want people to have a cancer and be told “go home and die,”‘ she says.