Monday, January 22, 2018
Health

Pancreatic cancer survivor invites Tampa Bay to walk for a cure

ST. PETERSBURG — Robb Lamont plans to spend Saturday morning taking a walk along the downtown waterfront with a thousand or so friends, all clad in purple.

Fundraising walks are common this time of year in Florida. Most include walkers whose hats or T-shirts bear the word "survivor.''

But at Saturday's PurpleStride Tampa Bay, the local Pancreatic Cancer Action Network walk, Lamont, 40, will be among the few enjoying that distinction.

The father of two young boys was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer four years ago. Most patients die within the first year of diagnosis; only 6 percent live five years.

"I was lucky," said Lamont, an attorney who lives with his family in South Tampa. "I got a stomach ache and it was found at an early stage."

But few people develop symptoms early enough to make effective treatment possible. Lamont hopes fundraising efforts will change that by supporting research into pancreatic cancer, the nation's fourth leading cause of cancer death. He is participating in a clinical trial at Tampa General Hospital testing a new therapy; he is the only one of the 15 who entered the trial when he did who still is involved; the rest either died or had to be taken off the drug.

Lamont talked with the Times this week about his diagnosis and his hope for the future.

Tell me more about how you knew something was wrong.

I woke up on July 4, 2009, with a stomachache that never seemed to stop. My wife said I should go to the hospital and be checked out. They did lots of tests but didn't find anything. I went to more doctors who assured me I was too young and healthy for it to be cancer, but my pancreas wasn't functioning normally. I was scheduled for surgery in late September to correct the suspected problem. That's when my surgeon found the tumor — about the size of a walnut — at the neck of my pancreas.

How did you react to that news?

We were pretty shocked. The news was alarming. I was young, active and fit, not a smoker, had no family history of pancreatic cancer and only one distant relative who ever had cancer.

What treatment did you choose?

I gathered my extended family and we decided I would remain in Tampa and receive standard chemotherapy plus an experimental drug. Then in April 2011, I had a recurrence, so they put me on a different chemo for five months, then radiation. In January 2012, all my tests came back negative for cancer, same for 2013, which is amazing and lucky.

What was your life like during treatment?

Except for the six weeks I was out for my surgery, I worked full time all through treatment. I had to take a couple days off with some of the chemo, but I kept going to work. I also kept doing as much as possible with my family and kids. My wife tells me to slow down. If anything, I think this has made me do more.

What's your hope for Saturday's walk?

Raising research dollars is what drives me. We need to find a test so we can detect this cancer early and improve survival. And, of course, I hope we find a cure.

I hope the next young dad who wakes up with a stomachache and gets this diagnosis just needs a simple injection of something and doesn't have to go through all I've been through to get well.

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