Larry Nicolet remembers the whirlwind week in January when he went from thinking he was perfectly healthy to finding out he had a potentially lethal illness. Larry and his wife Joan had gone to a basketball game on January 20, 2011. At the game, Joan asked him, “Do you feel alright?” Larry replied that he was fine, but Joan insisted that his eyes did not look right. That Monday, Larry stopped off for a haircut on his way to his office. The same stylist had been cutting his hair for twenty years. She mentioned to Larry that there was something wrong with his scalp. When Larry arrived at work, a woman who had worked for him for 32 years told him that he looked terrible. On Wednesday, Larry went in to the doctor. Larry’s doctor said he had jaundice, and immediately sent him for testing to determine the exact cause. Two days later, on Friday, Larry found out that he had Pancreatic Cancer.
Over that weekend, Larry continued turning yellow due to his bile duct blockage. On Monday, he had a consult with a surgeon. Just days later, on February 4th, Larry had the Whipple surgery, which removes the head of the pancreas. Larry followed up his surgery with six months of chemotherapy just to make sure any potentially remaining cancer cells were eradicated.
Following his surgery and chemotherapy, Larry went in for quarterly testing to screen for any cancer recurrences. In April of 2012, he was initially given a clean bill of health after a routine scan. However, Larry got a second phone call from his doctor. The doctor had taken a second look at the scan and determined that there was a spot in the remaining part of Larry’s pancreas. This was a localized recurrence confined to the tail of Larry’s pancreas. The surgeon told Larry that he would have to have his entire pancreas removed in a procedure known as a total pancreatectomy. Larry instantly became a diabetic following his surgery on April 30, 2012. Larry got an insulin pump following his surgery, which he refers to as his “outdoor pancreas”. His doctors said that their goal was to trick his body into believing that he still had a pancreas, and so far, it appears to be working.
Following his total pancreatectomy, Larry did not receive any chemotherapy or radiation. Everything was fine until May of 2013. At that time, testing showed a penny-sized spot in the scar tissue where his pancreas used to be. Larry Nicolet had pancreatic cancer for a third time. Larry traveled all around the country to major cancer centers seeking opinions. He began seeing renowned oncologist and researcher Dr. Von Hoff in Arizona. Dr. Von Hoff put him on the chemotherapy combination of Gemzar and Abraxane. At the time, Abraxane was still an experimental drug, but it received FDA approval after Larry received his fourth treatment.
Larry received chemotherapy from September 2013 until December 2013. Larry’s quarterly scans showed that the tumor shrunk to ¼ of the original size. One of the most important things Larry learned from his doctor was the importance of following a good nutrition plan and implementing a routine of vigorous daily exercise. His doctor specifically emphasized the importance of getting vigorous daily exercise as a means of slowing the growth of any cancer in his body. Larry took the advice to heart and says that by watching his diet and incorporating daily exercise into his life, he is in better shape than he has been in for at least the last twenty years.
Larry says, “Most people do not know what a pancreas is or what it does. But they think that if you have pancreatic cancer, you already have two nails in your coffin.” Larry’s doctors told him, “Out of 100 people who walk into the office to see me, 50 have already given up. Those we cannot help. 45 think that they might be able to get help, but they are not really too sure. They do not have the ability to look forward. Of all of the patients I have seen, you are going to make it.” Larry relays how planning for the future helps him to live a full life despite having Pancreatic Cancer three times. He keeps his “bucket list” full. He plans for trips and events in the future, and does not let anything get in the way of the lifestyle he has become accustomed to enjoying. He plays as much golf as he can fit into his schedule. He enjoys travel and spends time with his friends and loved ones. Focusing on the future has helped Larry to continue to enjoy every moment of his life. Larry Nicolet, the man who has thrived despite fighting pancreatic cancer three times, is an inspiration to everyone who knows him.