MIAMI – Every other year, Hollywood celebrities gather together to take part in a nationally televised and online effort to raise money for cancer research during an event called Stand Up To Cancer. The next one will be held Saturday.
Proceeds can lead to research to help people like 28-year-old Miami native Manny Garcia.
In the spring of 2019, he was on a trip overseas when he began suffering from an onslaught of gastrointestinal problems.
“It started hitting me from one day to the next like I remember being in my hotel room one night and throwing up and I remember thinking ‘oh, it’s the travel, it’s the food, it’s my first time in Europe’, something like that,” he said.
Back in the U.S., following weeks of doctors’ visits and tests, Garcia was ultimately diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer and the prognosis was grim.
“It was one of those situations where my body was already so in the red they couldn’t give me weeks or months to live, it’s like ‘you came in here, you’re probably not coming out,’” Garcia said.
But he found hope in the experts at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“The type of pancreatic cancer that Manny had is a very uncommon type so the first step in the battle is really to identify exactly what you’re dealing with because if we had treated him as someone who has the more routine type of pancreatic cancer he wouldn’t be here today, said Dr. Peter Hosein, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Miami and Co-Director of the Gastrointestinal Program at Sylvester.
Because Garcia wasn’t a candidate for surgery or organ transplantation, he went through 3 months of chemotherapy followed by experimental immunotherapy treatment.
“The drugs I’m taking it’s FDA approved for different kinds of cancer but not my kind,” Garcia said.
Specialists at Sylvester focus on identifying any possible genetic risk factors in each patient, as well as deep genetic profiling of the tumor itself.
“To identify any vulnerabilities of the disease that we can exploit for treatment,” Hosein said.
Garcia’s treatments have tapered off from every couple of weeks to eventually once a month.
At the end of August, he’ll receive his final infusion.
“My life’s a whole lot different now than it was a year or two years ago for sure,” he said.
Garcia will still undergo yearly scans but he considers himself living proof that pancreatic cancer can be beat and can be managed.
While the warning signs are subtle, experts say pay close attention to things like sudden weight loss, chronic indigestion and back pain.