Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all cancers because it shows no signs or symptoms until it reaches stage four. Natalie Sabga, whose husband, John, passed away from the disease on January 26, 2017, started the John E Sabga Foundation (JESF) for Pancreatic Cancer. When asked why she continues to fight for the cause, Mrs. Sabga had a lot to share with the WE mag team. Determined to find a cure for this chronic disease, Natalie opens up about her husband’s battle and why she is committed to the cause. This is what she had to share with us:
People often ask me “where do you get the strength and energy?” The truth is I am tired most days from just the day-to-day operations of running my business, but the slightest mention of Pancreatic cancer somehow manages to pique my interest and reinvigorate my spirit.
Can you imagine the fear that comes with a cancer diagnosis , far more, that of the deadliest cancer known to man? “Get your affairs in order” were the words echoed by John’s doctor. With utmost trepidation we embarked on a relentless chase in search of a cure. Knowing the limited treatment options available for pancreatic cancer we figured our best bet would be to seek the care of a pancreatic oncologist in the USA. We hurriedly left for Miami’s UM Sylvester Center where the stage 4 diagnosis was confirmed and treatment was started. After two months on the best first-line therapy available, we were stunned to hear that the tumours grew and the cancer numbers were up. I recall my husband’s shock at the news, as his pain had subsided and he was feeling so positive on the regimen. “Are you sure these results are correct doctor?” I remember him asking. As scared as we all were at that point, John agreed to try another chemo (treatment) starting the next day. All during this time whilst away from Trinidad, we were bombarded with phone calls and articles on the best doctors, hospitals and bush medicine for pancreatic cancer. It was so scary because fear of making the wrong decisions was constantly on our minds. We therefore sought a second opinion at MD Anderson in Houston to ensure we were doing everything right and to seek enrolment for a clinical trial. His tests at that time were showing positive results with the new chemo. We were told to go back to Miami and continue with the treatment as there were no clinical trials available for him and since the treatment was working in his favour, they (the doctors) would not change anything. We began to feel hopeful but as we soon learned with the horrible disease, after a short three months the markers started creeping up and John’s pain was back.
Scared and desperate, we flew back to Houston where we were told that they had nothing else to offer. Of course, we could not accept that. We were now in Texas, so we flew to Baylor Cancer Center in Dallas to see a doctor of whom we read about. He had a clinical trial showing great results in patients with pancreatic cancer. To our dismay, he had no spots available till the following month. Time was running out on us as we both knew the aggressive nature of the disease and three weeks had gone by without any chemo. In a last ditch effort, we flew straight away from Dallas to Arizona to see a world renowned pancreatic doctor and researcher. We had no appointment but we were on a desperate mission and figured once we got there John would be seen. Our expectations were high as this was one of the most revered doctors in pancreatic cancer and we were far away from home and clinging to hope. Luckily, we managed to see Doctor Daniel Von Hoff at HonorHealth hospital and we got John on a clinical trial within two days. By this time, chemo regimen after chemo regimen was starting to take a toll on John’s body and complication after complication was the order of the day. The new protocol was not working and he switched to his fourth chemo. Sadly, that did not work either and my husband decided he had enough. He wanted to come back to his beloved Trinidad and spend his last few days amongst his family and friends.
So why did I start the John E. Sabga Foundation (JESF) for Pancreatic Cancer? The answer is simple. How could I not continue this fight in my husband’s honour. After all, we had the means to seek the best treatment available in the world and yet still, it was to no avail. The emotional toll that cancer imparts on its victims and families are devastating. Pancreatic cancer is “the beast of all beasts.” I am committed to finding a cure for this cancer and have pledged to raise $1,000,000US for research so that our future generations will have hope. For this effort, the FDA has approved the “JES 1” Clinical Trial for Pancreatic cancer which will give our people the opportunity to get on a new treatment in T&T. This is the first clinical trial of its kind for the Caribbean region. The world is on a mission to find answers and better treatment options and the JESF has joined forces in this global and urgent matter. I have seen too many people succumb to this disease without a fighting chance and I’m determined to change the deadly statistics associated with pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is on the rise globally due to lifestyle changes. I urge everyone to join the fight now. Together we can make a difference and bring HOPE to our future generations. To learn the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer visit www.johnsabga.com or follow us on the John E. Sabga foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Facebook page.