Nearly a year ago, Daniel Rocha, a television producer in the Washington area, received a death sentence. He had an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer that was spreading rapidly through his body. Doctors gave him a few weeks to live. Then a doctor with an experimental combination of medicines and a pastor with a spiritual approach turned Daniel's life around.
Radio-television producer Daniel Rocha, originally from Colombia, is enjoying a moment of health. Nine months ago he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, one of the most lethal forms of cancer. "I remember when I was taken into surgery my wife was with me and told me -champion you are not leaving us, you have three children," he recalled.
Daniel's pancreas was removed, but the cancer had already spread to his liver.
At the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders in Maryland, Oncologist Victor Priego says the life expectancy of someone with Daniel's disease is about 4 months. "At the time I saw him, he had really very advanced cancer, practically 60 to 70 percent of his liver was replaced by cancer cells," Dr. Priego explained.
Several months ago, Dr. Priego started Daniel on chemotherapy. The treatment is part of a national study that combines the drug Gemzar, traditionally used for pancreatic cancer, with an experimental drug.
"He got a second drug, in addition to Gemzar, it's called "Abraxane." That's the experimental drug," Dr. Priego said. "The drug, we know is effective in breast cancer and lung cancer."
Dr. Priego says so far the combination has been effective in prolonging life for patients with pancratic cancer. The clinical trial is being run by the Sarah Cannon Research Institute in Nashville. "This is how progress in cancer treatment is made, by trying new drugs and eventually this combination may become the standard treatment for pancreatic cancer. My guess is that it's going to be very effective," he said.
A few weeks before Daniel was strong enough for chemotherapy, he had a spiritual experience that he says saved his life.
He was in the hospital, running a high fever and declining quickly.
Evangelical Pastor Daniel Negroni visited Daniel and invited him to pray. "I started to feel great peace and happiness. Then the pastor told me to make a deal with God because he was healing me," Rocha said.
Daniel says that night the fever disappeared and he started to recover. He became friends with Pastor Negroni who says he too has experienced the healing power of spirituality. "It was a simple prayer of healing. When I open my eyes I saw that Daniel seemed relieved. I never take credit for God's healing in people," he said.
Many doctors recognize that patients, like Daniel, with strong family support, a positive attitude and an active spiritual life have a greater chance to survive.
"I don't think I would say he is free of cancer. I would say that he is in what we call a solid partial remission which means that the majority of the cancer cells have disappeared," Dr. Priego said.
Daniel Rocha's ordeal is far from over. He lost 70 pounds but has recently gained some weight. He will continue with chemotherapy for some time, but he feels well and takes long walks with his family.
He has started to work again in a limited way. He is well enough to play the guitar again. And he plans to help others who are seriously ill.