Imagine sitting down to lunch with your family while on vacation and hearing them exclaim that your skin and the whites of your eyes have suddenly turned deep yellow. That episode was the beginning of an arduous journey in which Steven Lewis, PhD, endured through two bouts of pancreatic cancer before he returned to health on the other side.

An exercise physiologist, Lewis is now visiting professor of Clinical Biomedical Science at Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida. Prior to his illness, Lewis was a professor in human physiology at Boston University in Massachusetts. The unexpected diagnosis came in 2007; he was 58 years old. Lewis talked to Oncology Nurse Advisor about his ordeal in a conversation on September 26, 2014.

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After that disquieting lunch, Lewis promptly called his primary care physician in Boston and was told to undergo a CT scan immediately, which he did that night at the local hospital near his vacation home. He and his family were relieved that that scan was negative; however, his story changed dramatically the next night. Back at home in Boston, Lewis underwent a second CT at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center on their state-of-the art machine. The second set of imaging studies showed that the jaundice might be stemming from what appeared to be a small mass blocking his bile duct. “As the anxiety began to build,” Lewis explained, “I began to enter panic mode. At that moment my wife told me that we needed to be positive and ‘get through this with grace.’ Her words that evening stayed with me throughout my cancer journey.”

Scheduled for an endoscopic biopsy the next morning, Lewis realized this was just the beginning of a long course of medical action, and he resolved to stay as positive as possible throughout his upcoming ordeal. He felt that if he lapsed into a negative attitude, he could not expect his family and friends to remain upbeat and able to give him the emotional support he would need.

The treatments began in short order. He underwent Whipple surgery in August, followed by CyberKnife radiosurgery in early October to kill the few cancer cells remaining at the margin after the Whipple procedure. Fortunately, he had no lymph node involvement. The radiation oncologist gave Lewis hope when he explained that CyberKnife is able to kill pancreatic cancer cells in almost any tissue, “so if it spreads, we’ll take care of it.” Lewis underwent conventional abdominal radiation through the end of November, and chemotherapy with gemcitabine from January through March 2008.