David Denault (Cranston, R.I.)

DSRCT Diagnosed 10/93 at age 33 - Passed Away 9/98


From David's web page:  Born: 2/2/60   Married, two children  

Getting Diagnosed and Moving On
The Boston Red Sox are indirectly responsible for my diagnosis back in October of 1993. I was in the habit of falling asleep listening to the baseball game on my headphones. Using the headphones meant lying on my back instead of my side, my usual sleeping position. Sometime in August I began to experience some pain and discomfort in my abdomen while lying on my back. The pain wasn't severe, sometimes I had to sit up and watch TV for awhile until it subsided. I thought I might have the beginnings of an ulcer.

I decided to go to my HMO in the second week of September. The nurse practitioner ordered an ultra sound that reveled an abnormality on my pancreas. A follow-up CT scan showed a definite mass. At the time, we were hopeful that it was a benign mass. I was on the young side for pancreatic cancer and the position of the mass, on the head rather than the tail, made pancreatic cancer less likely.

My doctors decided that the mass had to come out and scheduled a Whipple procedure. After several delays caused by scheduling various tests and illness on the part of the surgeon, I went into surgery on the morning of October 15, 1993. The surgery was supposed to last something like seven hours and I knew something was wrong when I woke up in the recovery room a mere four hours after going under.

The surgeon found a tumor something between a golf ball and tennis ball in size extending from my pancreas to my stomach and appearing to infiltrate both organs (this assumption turned out to be incorrect). She also found numerous metastases, small nodes seeding my intestine, stomach, both omentums, diaphragm, aorta, and peritoneal wall. She decided the disease was unresectable, took numerous biopsies, and closed me up. I sometimes wonder about how much disease I would have had at diagnosis if not for the Boston Red Sox.

The news that I had an inoperable cancer was pretty devastating. I was a 33 year old with a newly minted doctorate in economics, a new job, a wife, and two children ages 4 years and 6 months. At first, there was some hope that, even though things were bad, it looked like I had a "well-behaved" slow growing neuroendocratic cancer. This glimmer of hope vanished when the pathology came back and I was diagnosed with desmoplastic small round cell tumor (DSRCT).

DSRCT had only recently been classified as a separate cancer. At the time of my diagnosis, the entire medical literature consisted of less than two dozen journal articles dating back to 1989. The majority of the literature was devoted to the pathology of the disease rather than its treatment. The articles that did cover treatment options were not encouraging. They described an aggressive, chemo resistant cancer that usually resulted in death. My oncologist, Dr. William Sikov of the Miriam Hospital in Providence, told me that, if I had a good response to my initial chemotherapy, I might be expected to survive for 20-24 months. Well, if you're newly diagnosed and reading this you should know that: (1) I didn't have a good response to my first chemo, (2) I'm still going 49 months after diagnosis. I'm not disease free, but I'm still going.

To this day, I believe that the weeks immediately following my surgery, but before I began chemo, were crucial to my developing a frame of mind for dealing with the ups and downs that are part of living with cancer. First, I was fortunate to receive a copy of Bernie Siegel's Peace, Love and Healing. This led me to one of his other books, Love, Medicine and Miracles and from there I began to devour similar books by other authors. I got a lot out of these books in those early days, not the least of which was an understanding that mental attitude is as important for dealing with a chronic disease as any drug or therapy that a physician can prescribe. I decided to cultivate the right frame of mind. I also began to meditate and use guided imagery. The medical jury is still out regarding the effectiveness of guided imagery, but I can say that I received of sense of empowerment from going through the process, especially in days before my first chemo. It was good to do something that might work against the disease.

I also began to see a therapist, a wonderful woman named Martha Harris. She helped me focus on living for the present. The future will come to pass no matter what and I can't change that, but I can enjoy today and love my family today and live today - if I choose to. With her help, I came to understand that it's possible to die of cancer long before you die of cancer.

At Martha's suggestion, I joined a support group at the Hope Center in Providence. I eventually left therapy, but I continue to meet in group. It has become an important part of my life (I'm now on the Board of Directors) and is one of several positive forces in my life that developed after my diagnosis.










To be continued...






www.dsrct.com     desmoplastic small round cell tumor