John Bilbrey | CaringBridge

John Bilbrey

First post: 10/9/2016 Latest post: 4/19/2017
Between loads of cattle this fall, John was enjoying a regular day at home on Thursday, September 29, 2016 when he decided to visit his local doctor for a prescription refill for what he thought was the recurrence of a kidney infection. He had some concerns about high blood pressure and arthritis... On arrival, his "painless jaundice" and a urinalysis and blood test led the doctor to believe a CT scan was needed. The results were, in their words, "life-changing". We were told his gall bladder was "huge", that there was a cyst on his kidney, that masses surrounded the liver, lungs, and lymph nodes, and his liver enzymes on a scale of 1-50 were 1,500. We learned that his bile duct was blocked by tumors, and since the gall bladder was full, bile is backing up into the liver and causing a yellow/green appearance. We heard the words that no one ever wants to hear - pancreatic cancer - with 8-18 months to live, three massive prescriptions, and advice to go home and rest. True to John's nature, he did not follow those instructions! He was experiencing quite a bit of back pain, but all other symptoms were manageable (without pain meds) at that time.



In researching pancreatic cancer, the statistics are more than disappointing. John has (or has had in past months) all of the symptoms, except for nausea/vomiting and diabetes - but had attributed all of this to normal aging combined with a significant amount of stress in our lives. Dr. David Christianson (at the St. Vincent Frontier Cancer Center in Billings, MT) reviewed his CT, PET, and CT Assessment of Resectability scans and consulted with three surgeons, determining that the tumor is not resectable/operable.  Radiologist Dr. Rebecca Tarlton believes that the pancreas is also not a candidate for targeted radiation.




John received an Infusaport from Dr. Jeff Rentz early on Wednesday (10/19) and then had an unexpected admission to the hospital due to a mysterious, sudden, and excruciating pain in his right hip/leg. With massive pain meds on board, he experienced minor hallucinations while inside the MRI. The MRI revealed a bulging disc and pinched nerve, which were thought to be repairable with a third surgery, but according to Dr. Katherine Dietrich, if this was caused by cancer, the status would be elevated to Stage Four and shorten his life expectancy - mentioned was three weeks to a year.



Dr. Stephen Baum completed an ERCP, biopsy, and placement of a biliary stent on Thursday (10/20) and this procedure went as expected but additionally revealed minor blockage of the small intestine, which was resolved. He had a hard time fully recovering from the second anesthesia due to total exhaustion, and was very sleepy all day/night with many hallucinations to entertain (and concern) our family.  Surgery #3 was placed on hold. Neurosurgeon Dr. Jon Taveau indicated that he would not operate on the disc causing the pain and that John has a spinal instability requiring a major surgery - Lumbar or Spinal Fusion - which one's body cannot heal while on chemo.


Friday morning (10/21) brought an early meeting with Dr. Christianson, who after confirming no spinal cord involvement or presence of cancer, persuaded Dr. Taveau to remove John's right L3/L4 disc, releasing pressure on the nerve, and to fabricate a screw-and-rod spine support system. The 5-hour surgery was successful but he spent the night in ICU after experiencing aspiration after surgery, resulting in pulmonary edema. 

Saturday, 10/22 brought surgery #4 to reposition a screw in the spinal cage.  This fourth anesthesia, combined with a week of assorted and powerful narcotics essentially shut down his body functions - mental and physical - and resulted in a three-night stay in ICU.


Chemotherapy protocol has been shared, but the start date will be delayed by three weeks to allow a healing period for the back surgery. Additionally, due to a degree of uncertainty with his tumor, Dr. Christianson has referred John to UC-Denver for a needle biopsy and consultation.


As John works on his "Bucket List" and awaits a definitive treatment plan, he is humbled and overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support received from family and friends and we are all truly grateful for all of the prayers and offerings of help.  


Thank you for your continued prayers and support as we journey through this next battle.

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