Genetic Testing is Essential When It Comes to Defeating Pancreatic Cancer

Nick Pifani was a relatively healthy individual. He rarely drank and never smoked, but cancer doesn’t care about that. Pifani was diagnosed with stage-3 pancreatic cancer in 2017. What was originally believed to be a gallbladder issue, doctors found a mass in his pancreas after running some tests. 

“I started experiencing some GI issues, a little bit of stomach pain after I ate so I called the doctor for a recommendation for a GI specialist,” he said. The pain became so excruciating that he couldn’t wait a month for his appointment, so he checked himself into the ER.  

“They thought it was a gallbladder issues, and did an ultrasound,” he said. “It wasn’t the gallbladder so they said they’d go a quick CT scan to check for early appendicitis.”  

After the CT scan revealed a mass in his pancreas, they rushed an MRI where he was then diagnosed with stage-3 pancreatic cancer. Although the mass was inoperable due to the late stage it was discovered in, Pifani didn’t take this diagnosis as a death statement. Instead, he fought and defeated the cancer after weeks of aggressive chemotherapy and radiation. The tumor shrunk to the point where it was operable.  

After being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Pifani revealed to his doctors that his cousin was diagnosed with the same disease six weeks prior. This led to the doctors running a panel on genetic testing. It was discovered that Pifani had a genetic marker for pancreatic cancer that is related to the BRCA gene.  

“I found out that the genetic mutation carried some vulnerabilities, and for those vulnerabilities, platinum-based chemotherapy was very effective,” Pifani said. He was able to map out his family health history and share it to other family members.  

“The more information that you have, the more powerful it can be,” he said.  

Pifani is now two years cancer-free. He’s become an advocate for the disease and getting people educated. He wants others to be aware of the symptoms that come with pancreatic cancer and how they can get treated.  

“As a patient, you need to become educated,” he said. “The challenge with pancreatic cancer is a lot of the symptoms seem to be generic. Just because you have GI issues, it doesn’t mean you have cancer, but I think it really calls for knowing your family history.”  

Pifani believes there needs to be more funding for genetic testing and early detection. He plans on visiting Washington, D.C. to meet with legislators for the third time to discuss how they can further research and testing.  

“We need more research and funding for early detection. Because that’s how you’re going to fight this disease. The way to catch is early because so much of the cancer is stage 3 and 4 when it’s caught, and the outcomes aren’t as good,” he said.  

Pifani continues to focus on activities that are passionate to him, including running. He kept telling himself that pancreatic cancer wasn’t going to take that away from him.  

“I wasn’t going down without a fight,” he said. “My thought was, if I can get through a run when I’m feeling my worst, I can do anything, right? So that’s what I did.”  

Photo: Nick Pifani 

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