James Brett: Staying Positive While Fighting Pancreatic Cancer

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“Being at Fox Chase has been very comforting. They’re more like friends to me, and that has made all the difference.”

— James Brett

I am 55 years old and a lot of my free time is spent acquiring cars, fixing them up, and moving on to the next one—that is, when I’m not working in my own auto body shop for my day job. My work is a big part of my life and I’m not yet ready to give it up, which is why when I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I wasn’t sure what to think.

An Unexpected Diagnosis

In July 2019, I went to my local hospital's emergency room for what I believed was a kidney stone. I had been experiencing some pain and dark urine, so I thought that was the issue. After doing a CAT scan, the doctors told me that I actually had two different problems. In addition to a kidney stone, they had found a tumor about the size of a cranberry on my pancreas.

It was devastating. You never think it’s going to happen to you so you have a lot of mixed emotions. My father had the same diagnosis, but that wasn’t until he was 78. I had thoughts about that happening later down the road, but I never thought it would happen this early in my life.

I didn’t see it coming at all, especially since a year before I had gone in for an appendectomy and nothing had showed up on the scans. I’m actually pretty lucky I got a kidney stone when I did because they were able to catch the tumor early, which allowed me to be treated with surgery. The surgeons encouraged me to get a second opinion. I immediately thought of Fox Chase Cancer Center.

Finding Friends in Fox Chase

James Brett and Dr. Reddy at a follow-up appointment.James Brett and Dr. Reddy at a follow-up appointment.My family and I met with Dr. Sanjay Reddy at Fox Chase, and we liked him from the get-go. He answered all my family’s questions and made us feel at ease. He was only willing to do what needed to be done if it would benefit me. He made me feel like he was in it me for, and only for me. Dr. Reddy brought the whole team of four specialists in and went through the whole procedure, making sure that we understood the process.

I then underwent six rounds of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor. That process took me into October 2019. After letting my body recover from the chemotherapy, surgery was scheduled for December 20, 2019. I underwent a Whipple procedure, in which surgeons typically remove your gallbladder, bile duct, parts of the small intestine and stomach, and part of the pancreas. After that, they reattach what’s left over so food can still be digested.

I was recovering in the hospital for about 10 days afterward and spent the following eight weeks resting at home. I’m still working on parts of my recovery. Everything feels different. Eating things that are a little more regimented has been something I’ve had to get used to. Initially, I couldn’t tell if I was full or if I needed to eat. I’d get cramping or rumbling and I didn’t know if I was full or empty, so it’s been different.

Looking Toward the Future

I started back at work part time after the eight weeks and I’m happy to be back at work full time now. Between work, the new swimming pool that we put in a couple years ago, and a 1970 Chevelle SS that I just bought, I think I’ll be keeping pretty busy. I’ve always been into flipping cars. Our kids are involved in the business now too, and I want to see them take over what I built. Hopefully, once they’re in place, I can retire and maybe travel.

James Brett working on his 1970 Chevelle SS.James Brett working on his 1970 Chevelle SS.

What I’ve found through this is it’s important to stay positive. A good mindset gets you farther than you think. I think you’ll stay ahead of the game that way. I have my moments, but for the most part, if you stay in the right mindset and have the right people around you, it’s huge. Being at Fox Chase has been very comforting. They’re more like friends to me, and that has made all the difference.

Learn more about pancreatic cancer and Whipple procedure at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

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