Pancreatic Cancer Patient Stories, Clinical-Trials Patient Stories, Neuroendocrine Carcinoma Patient Stories
Chris and his twins - Andy and Effy.
In April 2008, Chris Kalargheros, a Vice President at Merrill Lynch, was at the top of the world after he and his wife, Liz, became the proud new parents of twins – a boy and a girl. Then, he began to experience abdominal pain that landed him in the hospital a few times. An MRI of the abdomen showed lesions on Chris’s liver and a mass on his pancreas. “My whole world came crashing down,” admitted Chris, who was only 33 years old and an active soccer and basketball player.
“Thinking back, it was a very frightening time for Liz and me. She worked as a school teacher and we had three-month old infants to care for,” recalled Chris. A biopsy confirmed the lesions on Chris’s liver were cancerous.
“When we learned I had cancer, I pretty much became numb,” shared Chris. His local doctors suspected he had pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to his liver, but sent his tissue samples to the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C., hoping that further evaluation would lead to a conclusive diagnosis.
The results of a blood test convinced Chris’s doctor that he had a neuroendocrine carcinoma.
At that point, Chris and Liz wanted to get a second opinion. They lived in New Jersey so they had many options. Chris scheduled a few appointments at various institutions, including Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and Fox Chase in Philadelphia.
"When we got to Fox Chase and met Dr. Igor Astsaturov, I knew I was in the right place."
“Fox Chase was the only place where I felt like everyone I met truly cared about me," explained Chris. The Center's world-class pathologists were able to accurately diagnose Chris’s tumor, and Dr. Astsaturov called Chris personally to share the news: he had a neuroendocrine carcinoma that started in the pancreas and spread to the liver. Although it was cancer, Dr. Astsaturov explained, it was better than pancreatic cancer. "After talking to Dr. Astsaturov, I felt confident in the treatment options he suggested. That phone call really lifted my spirits,” added Chris, who couldn’t believe the doctor called him himself. “I felt there was promise and hope. And I was grateful to be at Fox Chase.”Dr. Astsaturov started treatment by enrolling Chris in a clinical trial. Although he had a rough time the first week, the treatment worked and helped to shrink the lesions on his liver. Chris switched to another trial to see if he could tolerate the treatment better.
Next, Chris met with Richard Daniels, MD, an interventional radiologist, who performed a chemoembolization, a procedure where doctors inject a chemotherapeutic substance into the tumor to stop blood flow. When blood flow is cut off, tumor cells do not get the oxygen they need to survive, causing them to stabilize or shrink. This procedure was successful as Chris’s tumors decreased from the size of a softball to a golf ball.
“I began to feel better because I could digest food, so I gained weight and regained my strength,” Chris added. He resumed his chemotherapy treatment for three years. Chris noted that it was fairly tolerable with little side effects. With regards to his new routine, Chris added, “We are very fortunate to have a close-knit family who live nearby. I never went to an appointment alone – someone always came along, even when I could have driven myself!”
Chris underwent genome sequencing of his tumor.
At this point in Chris's treatment, Dr. Astsaturov suggested genome sequencing of Chris's tumor to gain a better understanding of the cancer. Through next-generation DNA sequencing, tumor-specific genetic alterations can sometimes be matched to precision drugs. The test results might help his physicians identify the most effective treatment to target the altered gene. With the results of this test, Chris was reassured that if his cancer recurred, doctors would be able to determine the best course of treatment. For Chris, it turned out that the drugs that Dr. Astsaturov prescribed were the best choice to target his tumor.
"Learning that I was on the most effective drug combination gave me added confidence in Dr. Astsaturov and Fox Chase," said Chris.
In fall 2011, Chris’s liver enzymes were elevated, yet CAT scans revealed that the disease was not progressing. Dr. Astsaturov suggested that they stop the treatments and monitor his progress each month. As of February 2012, the cancer has stopped growing.
During treatment, Chris Kalargheros (left) enjoyed coaching his nephew, George's basketball team with his brother Manny (right).
"At Fox Chase, I can tell you that every nurse is phenomenal."
"From the infusion room nurses, to the floor nurses, they made our family feel really special," said Chris.
Impressed that Dr. Astsaturov is a researcher in addition to being a clinician, Chris recalls asking him why he does both. Dr. Astsaturov explained that rather than becoming frustrated with limited resources for treating patients, he decided he could help develop new therapies to treat patients. “He kept investigating alternative treatments for me," explained Chris.
"Dr. Astsaturov is the best," Chris continued. "He is completely dedicated to his patients. When we met him, he was really serious, but now he's like part of our family."
Early in his treatment, Chris and his family began fundraising for a national organization involved in neuroendocrine carcinoma research. Once they had raised $10,000, they decided to raise money for the same research – but at Fox Chase Cancer Center.
“My sister-in-law, Jacki, is amazing," Chris said. "She created a fund at Fox Chase and organizes several fundraisers each year.” The Kalargheros family hopes their fund for neuroendocrine carcinoma research will contribute to advances in treatment for the disease, including gene sequencing that can result in personalized, tailored treatment.
"Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible."
Chris lives by these words. During his treatment, Chris enjoyed spending time with his children and has stayed involved as a coach and an official for both soccer and basketball, despite having to give up participation in contact sports. “This disease may have slowed me down, but I’m still enjoying life," he said. "Cancer can’t take that away from me.”