Kermit Small was shooting pool at the Memphis Recreation Center when he got the call from his doctor that something was wrong.
What he believed was some form of stomach ailment has led the retired Scotland County farmer to seek a physician’s opinion. He wasn’t prepared for the news he received.
“I got the phone call at the pool hall, and my doctor told me the numbers were bad in the blood test that I had just had done and that I needed to get to the ER immediately,” Kermit said.
Small said initially the concerns centered around his gall bladder, but after being transferred from Scotland County Hospital to University Medical Center in Columbia, he got much worse news.
“That’s when I found out that I had pancreatic cancer,” said Small. “They told me there was a tumor, the size of a walnut, that was basically squishing the gall bladder duct, leading to my symptoms.”
Even though he was diagnosed as what he called stage 2 and a half, Small said the prognosis was not good.
“It is pretty much a death sentence,” said Small. “It was far enough along that it was inoperable, and most of the doctors agreed that I probably only have about 10 to 14 months to live.”
According to MD Anderson Cancer Center, pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, with an estimated 50,000 new cases diagnosed each year, resulting in 40,000 deaths annually blamed on the disease.
The pancreas, located behind the lower part of the stomach, is responsible for producing the body’s insulin and also forms other juices that aid in the digestion process and help the body absorb sugar and control blood sugar levels.
Because signs of the disease and its symptoms are not obvious, pancreatic cancer often goes undiagnosed until its later stages, which leads to its high mortality rate.
According to MD Anderson Cancer Center, symptoms include jaundice or yellowing of the skin; dark urine or light-colored stools; pain in the abdomen or middle of the back; nausea or the feeling of fullness; fatigue; lack of appetite; unexplained weight loss; and sudden onset diabetes.
Small was diagnosed at stage 2A, with the tumor being larger than four centimeters. Small’s cancer had not spread to nearby major blood vessels and or lymph nodes near the pancreas, which moves the diagnosis to Stage III.
But instead of simply waiting out the disease, Kermit began researching treatment opportunities.
“I didn’t have much else to do or a whole lot else on my mind, so I got on the computer and started reading about cancer,” said Small.
That led him to MD Anderson Cancer Center, which he stated is the #1 treatment facility in the United States.
“From what I could tell, it was my best option, ahead of the center in New York and ahead of Mayo’s,” said Kermit. “So that’s where we decided to go for a second opinion.”
Unfortunately, the prognosis didn’t change for Small. The second opinion confirmed that his cancer was inoperable.
But the trip to Texas ended up serving a different purpose. While working with the medical staff, Small learned about a clinical trial underway at the facility called siG12D Loder.
“When we started down here, I told Karen that if they presented me any options, if it was as slim as 1% chance, I was going to take it,” said Kermit.”In the end, this may not make a difference for me, but maybe they can learn something that will help someone else down the line win this fight.”
Little did Kermit know, his rapid response, and a decision to travel for the second opinion before starting treatment, opened the door for his inclusion in the clinical trial.
With only 80 applicants selected for the program, Small said he felt like he had hit a royal flush in one his favorite past times, Texas Hold’em Poker.
“I turns out that if I had done any kind of treatment when I first found out, that would have disqualified me,” he said. “It’s really weird to be discussing luck just after you found out you have terminal cancer, but I guess I felt pretty lucky to have a shot at this.”
In the end, Small was the lone individual among the 80 applicants at MD Anderson that was eligible for this round of the trial.
The clinical trial involves injecting eight separate doses of the siG12D-Loder directly into the tumor during a 12-week cycle, and combining the treatment with chemotherapy. The results will be studied against chemotherapy only treatments.
The drug therapy is produced by Silenseed, Ltd., a biopharmaceutical company focusing on cancer treatment drugs and delivery systems to attack solid tumor cancers, which currently include pancreatic, prostate and certain brain cancers.
The current clinical trial that Small is a part of is being offered at MD Anderson as well as Hackensack Median Health in New Jersey; Mount Sinai Hospital and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York; and Rambam Medical Center. Rabin Medical Center and Assaf Harofeh Medical Center, all in Israel.
“I have some of the top people in the world working on me,” said Small. “Some of the team that was with me for the first treatment had just flown in from Israel.”
Kermit had his first appointment at MD Anderson on June 4th. After being accepted into the program, he began treatment the following week, with family members at his side.
“It looks like this first phase will take anywhere from three to nine months,” Small said. “Chemo has been pretty rough, but it is getting easier. If everything goes okay next week, we’re hoping that we can make a trip back home to Scotland County.
Because of the weakened immune system caused by the treatment, Kermit said when he gets back to town, visitors likely will have to wear a mask, but he is still looking forward to being home.Anyone interested in reaching out to Kermit or wanting to drop him a card or other correspondence can do so at the following address: 46998