New VCU clinic aims to reverse pancreatic cancer ‘death sentence’

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Lucian Tuppince is a survivor. Here he is, nine years after his pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

“I’ve just been feeling great,” says Tuppince, who is a minister at Faith Refuge Church of Christ on Brook Road.

In 2007, Tuppince knew something was not right. He had abdominal pain, issues going to the bathroom and jaundice. Test after test found nothing.

“One last test they did on me, and that found out that I had pancreas cancer,” Tuppince remembers the news that changed his life.

Surgery followed, and he met with different doctors to target any issues that came up over the weeks, months and years following his diagnosis.

Together, those specialists now make up a new clinic at VCU Massey Cancer Center’s Stony Point facility.

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“Trying to give patients a sort of one-stop shop for their treatment, for their pancreatic disease,” Dr. Brian Kaplan explains the mission of the clinic.

The new pancreatic cancer clinic is housed at VCU Massey Cancer Center at Stony Point (Photo: VCU Massey Cancer Center)

Dr. Kaplan, a surgical oncologist, says the multi-disciplinary approach allows for more proactive and aggressive treatments. For people with a familial history of pancreatic cancer, screenings are available.

Traditionally, a pancreatic cancer diagnosis has been considered a death sentence because it is often detected very late, but treatment advances like these are making it possible for some patients not just to survive but to thrive.

“They can get the best treatment and have all the brains at the table,” Dr. Kaplan says about the new clinic. “All the other people. Besides surgery, medical oncology, radiation oncology, as well as our genetics people.”

For survivors like Tuppince, there is also follow-up care.

Specialists in several different disciplines offer care through the pancreatic cancer clinic. (Photo: VCU Massey Cancer Center)
Specialists in several different disciplines offer care through the pancreatic cancer clinic. (Photo: VCU Massey Cancer Center)

“No weight loss? No abdominal pain? You’re doing really well for this far out,” Dr. Kaplan tells Tuppince during an exam.

Because he is doing so well, Tuppince can focus on moving forward with his church, his family and his community.

“Here I am today,” he says, gesturing his arms. “I’m just excited now about life, and I thank God that I get another opportunity.”

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. The American Cancer Society estimates nearly 42,000 of the 53,000 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year will die from it.

Symptoms mimic other conditions, so the cancer often goes undetected until it is well advanced. Signs include weight loss, jaundice and pain in the abdomen and back.

Dr. Kaplan says anyone who notices any of these symptoms should contact their physician to get tested.