Stories of Hope: David Paffenroth

David N PaffenrothIn the fall of 2014, Dave began to lose weight.  Being diagnosed a few years earlier with Diabetes II, at first he thought it was part of the disease. However, other symptoms started to appear — pain under his rib cage, losing more weight, change in stools, etc.  An appointment to the primary doctor in October had Dave and his wife, Wendy, asking a lot of questions.  Dave asked the doctor if he had pancreatic cancer.  The doctor assured him his bloodwork was good and his “sugar pills” just needed adjusting. We decided to make an appointment to see the endocrinologist for the second week of January.  We changed his pills a number of times, but things kept sliding downhill.

Christmas rolled around and Dave continued to get sicker and sicker. We met with a different endocrinologist, who immediately put Dave on insulin. Bloodwork showed that his liver enzymes were way off. A CT scan showed a small tumor on the head of the pancreas. Within 3 days Dave was in surgery having a stent put into his bile duct as the tumor was pressing on the bile duct. By Saturday afternoon he was home but really not much better. Not to our knowledge, but the stent was misplaced and shut down his liver.

Monday morning his color was way off, so we returned to the surgeon’s office for a series of tests.  We were told if further surgery was indicated they would send us to the city, but they didn’t seem to have the urgency we thought we needed. Dave said to me, “Wendy, they are looking at me like I am a dead man”.

A medical friend told Dave that he needed “Dr. John Chabot” at Columbia. In the morning Dave called and we spoke with a lovely lady named Shenelle. We quickly faxed all of his medical records to her. A few hours later we received a call from the pancreatic center, to immediately bring Dave to the ER. 

The ER was extremely busy and poor Dave hadn’t eaten since earlier in the day. After waiting almost 24 hours, being seen by multiple providers, and waiting in a crowded hallway, we asked to meet with the head of nurses. We explained the situation and he got Dave on the MRI list. 

After the MRI, Dave was placed as an “Add-on” for stent replacement which they hoped would be Thursday. When Dave came out of recovery, he was on the phone with the kids, and said he felt so good he could run around the block.  He actually smiled at me, the first time in many days — again we felt hopeful. 

That evening, back in our room, we met Dr. John Chabot. He told us Dave appeared operable as he had a small tumor on the pancreas, but also his gall bladder needed to come out. Dave would have a few rounds of chemo to shrink the tumor, undergo the whipple surgery, and then continue with chemo. Again, we felt HOPE.

Dave responded well to the chemo and so Dr. Chabot scheduled the surgery for March 10th, 2015. I am glad to say that the surgery was on Tuesday and by Saturday afternoon we were taking him home to recover. On March 27th our daughter Susan and her husband Adam welcomed our first grandchild. Named after his grandfather and uncle, David James, was born in Tennessee. He truly is a blessing in our lives. We travelled to see him after he was born and for his Christening — a wonderful and memorable day.

Unfortunately, Dave began to show late side effects from the chemo treatments.  Dr. Saenger, our oncologist, and Dr. Cheryl Kunis, our nephrologist, worked together to come up with a plan.  Dave was very ill and in our heart of hearts we didn’t think he would survive.  Prayers came from the west coast to the east coast – from south to north for us as they had throughout the entire journey.  Slowly, Dave was better. When December came, along came bad news.  Two small tumors returned and we needed to start a different chemo treatment.  We again decided we were going to fight for his life.

Chemo continued and June 2016, scans were clean.  We saw Dr. John Chabot on July 6th who told us the CT was good — he was encouraging. The next scan is scheduled for Sept. 21st.

We are truly blessed. So many people have sent cards, emails, and kept us in their prayers. Our dear friends have been walking and holding us up when things didn’t always look so promising — we thank them for that.  Our church, First Presbyterian Church, in Goshen, NY continues to uphold us.  Dave continued to work throughout the entire ordeal, and continued as Secretary/Treasurer and volunteer of his fire company. We don’t know what the future holds, but we have held onto HOPE and know that every day we are together is a gift to cherish.  We continue to try to fight the good fight and to seek out any help we need. We can only thank everyone that has dealt with us at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia for their kindness and compassion.

Dave’s Take on the situation —

If I have learned anything from the past 2 years, it is to listen to your body. Don’t accept what you are told if you know in your heart you aren’t getting the answers to your problems. Seek out other advice and don’t be afraid to ask questions concerning your health. When you find out you have pancreatic cancer, as any catastrophic illness, your life does a 180 degree turn, never to be like it was before, for you and your loved ones. 

Was I scared? Of course. When faced with a disease that can and still might take your life, you face every day in a different way. I have found that a second or even a third opinion is probably the best thing you can do for yourself.  Sure, it is aggravating collecting your records, making appointments and seeing someone totally new, but in the long run it may be the answer you need.  So many of our friends have faced similar situations and everyone seems to be afraid to travel to the “city”, but we know that some of the Best of the Best are in these hospitals. They are on the cutting edge of cures and ways to extend life with quality.

We consider ourselves simple “country folk”, living in “farming community”. But we are lucky to be close to some of the world’s outstanding hospitals. We found that by sharing your story you also find out things that worked for others in similar situations.  There is always HOPE.  Anyone who is negative around you needs to go. I continue to live life to the fullest.  I plan to go hunting with my son this fall, go to a college football game and enjoy every day God gives me.  I appreciate everyone who has listened, helped and been in my corner throughout this journey.  Our family has a strong faith, we will continue to look to the future and know that there are many new things happening in the medical field that might help me in the future.

My doctors, Dr. Chabot, Dr. Kluger, Dr. Schrope, Dr. Saenger, Dr. Kunis, our med student Emma and the staff they have with them have all been outstanding. We thank our PA’s, those who set appointments for us, do our vitals and anyone who has been on our team.  I cannot thank them enough.

Always set goals and try to achieve them. Continue to look to the future.  Our son was promoted to Naval Commander at the Washington D.C. Naval Yard early September this year.  I lived to witness the ceremony and couldn’t be prouder to have my family with me to celebrate his achievement.  Thank you.