One Man's Cancer.

February 26, 1992

Joey Pearce is a friend of mine and has been since we were kids over thirty years ago. Joey was maybe 13 or 14 and his father worked as a captain on party boats (for daily hire to the public). Joe, for some reason or another got attracted to the commercial (food fishing) end of the business. He and his friend, Jimmy Matthews (whose father also worked on the party boats), scraped enough junk, money, castoff nets and sundry stuff together to get their own skiff. In those days before the self-serving, contemptible, government socialists and eco-nazis got into the business) a man (or boys in this case) could pretty much succeed on hard work alone.

Another necessary characteristic, besides hard work, was you had to be tough. Raw cold, leaky skiffs, engines from junked cars, rotten twine, lousy fish prices, heartless thieving dealers, never any money, long long hours, hard hard hard work, .... - you had to be tough. And Joe Pearce was a tough kid who became a tough man in a tough business.

9 or 10 years ago, Joey came down with testicular cancer and suffered greatly (far more than necessary, in my opinion) in our local hospital. He took chemotherapy for a couple years (lost his hair - you know the story. We're all too familiar with cancer treatment side effects) and the chemo knocked the socks off him (like it does pretty near everybody) but Joey never laid down. He'd have a treatment and then go fishing with Jimmy (who had a pretty decent inshore dragger by that time). Too weak to even stand up, he would pick fish on his knees with one hand. Rough weather, bitter cold, this goddam cancer was not going to beat him - or if it was, he was going to fucking well stand up to it like a man.

Joey had been in Vietnam and some of us wondered if that was where he picked it up - Agent Orange, Blue, Green - all that obscene shit that comes around in a war.

Anyway Joey survived the cancer and after a couple years was as good as ever. He fished with Jimmy in the winter as he always had and with his own skiff (his great love) the rest of the year. Like many in our business, Joey could be a heavy drinker and like many would sometimes drink to excess. He gave all that drinking up a couple years ago and when he wasn't on the ocean (either with his nets or even a rod & reel), he was freshwater fishing somewhere with his home made flies, usually with his son (9 years old).

Last summer (1991) Joey mentioned to a couple close friends he wasn't feeling so hot, "mebbe that shit is back again". Around Thanksgiving, in great stomach pain, he went to his doctor (they were fishing buddies) who "thought" maybe Joe was coming down with an ulcer. After a couple weeks the doctor sent him to a specialist, Doctor C, who diagnosed his problem as pancreatitus(?), an extremely painful condition (another doctor has since told me the body generates no greater pain than in the pancreas).

In late January, a mutual friend called and told me about Joey. I hadn't seen him for a few years (being outta action myself - but that's another story) and told me about him and his condition. All he could do by then was sit at his kitchen table and try to bear the pain, which would bring tears to the eyes of this tough, tough man. Doctor C was giving him some pills but they were of little value and of short duration. Doctor C kept telling him to hang on, the condition would soon pass as the medication took effect. The only relief (and that was very little) Joe could get was to go to the emergency room of the hospital and wait until a nurse or a doctor could give him a shot of something.

I called Joey and gave him hell for screwing around with these local doctors. He had been given the name (by another friend) of a stomach specialist in Philadelphia but Joe was reluctant to call. He said Doctor C seemed like a decent guy and all and seemed to know his stuff. I convinced Joey to at least get a second opinion, if only to be reassured that Doctor C really did know his stuff. "Okay" he said and made an appointment. The earliest he could get was a coupla three weeks away (Early February).

In the meantime, I took a phone fit and eventually ended up with one of those 800 medical referral numbers. The woman who answered was quite pleasant and very sympathic. I told her I had a friend with this pancreas problem and could she supply the names of 3 or 4 specialists he could call to see about a second (or third) opinion.

"Certainly. What is his insurance company?" - Her.

"Gee, I don't know. What dfference does that make?" - Me.

"Well I can't supply ANY information until I get the name of the company. It's the rules." - Her.

Some words back and forth and I finally told her "You know what you're really saying, don't you. If my friend has Company A, he will get a Level 1 doctor, and if he has Company B, he will get he will get a Level 2 doctor, and so on down the line. And if he has *no* insurance, then he's fucked. He might just as well go crawl to a clinic somewhere and cower in a corner until some first year med student has time to give him an aspirin."

She hung up. I knew Joey had insurance (damn lucky for him) but I just think that some people, no matter how nice they appear, have a lousy job and should be reminded of it once in a while.

Before Joey's appointment in Philadelphia, he had an appointment with Doctor C (who had previously disparaged getting a second opinion). When Joey told Doctor C he had decided to get a second opinion, Doctor C immediately arranged for Joey to get admitted to Hahneman's University Hospital in Philadelphia where his personal friend, Doctor J was a "specialist in pancreatic problems". I later learned from other sources that Hahneman's has a top reputation for internal medicine and that Dr. J was the number one man.

Joey called when he got home and said he would get admitted as soon as there was a room, maybe that night. I had offered to take him anytime he needed to go to Philly for the second opinion. Hahneman's called, and I took Joey that night. Within an hour of arrival (8pm) they had begun examination, xrays, etc.

I talked to Joey on the phone the next day and you could hear the relief in his voice. He still had pain, but they were working on it and he finally had some true confidence in the hospital and doctors. He had already been seen by at least "a dozen" different doctors and was impressed by them and the entire staff, from admittance to nursing. I know when I dropped him off, they had the paperwork done and in a room in less than 10 minutes.

I phoned Joey once or twice a day every day for the next month. His demeanor ranged from his old self - wise cracking, smartass, joking - to pain so great he couldn't talk. Sometimes long minutes would go by and all I could hear was agonized labored breathing. "You want me to hang up Joe?" "No, no, that's alright." So you just hung on the phone hoping there was some comfort for him knowing his friends cared.

When they finally put him on a morphine solution fed by an IV, he was great. It was the only stuff that would cut the pain. No pills ever did the job. Joey had a metabolism that went a hunnert miles an hour, healthy he could eat 8 meals a day and still be hungry. He wasn't all that big a guy - maybe 5'8" and 150 lbs, never did have an ounce of fat, no matter how much he ate or drank, and boy he could do both. That was most likely why the pills never worked very well, they were probably used up by the time they hit his stomach.

The pain was brutal and, without morphine, unrelenting. It would make him angry and nasty, emotions foreign to Joey's nature. He told me one day "This morning the pain was so bad, I struggled out to the hall in front of the nurse's station. I stood there with the tears running down my face and told them 'This is wrong. No man should have to endure pain like this when you can do something about it. Just plain wrong.'"

You see they'd take him off the morphine every once in a while, I guess so he wouldn't become addicted, and this excruciating, manhood-stealing, unknowable pain would take him over again.

Joey was in Hahneman's about a month when they sent him home. He'd had uncountable tests, painful biopsies, scans, doctors, nurses, needles, ..... Said he felt like "a damn guinea pig." They gave him an operation to block the pain but that didn't take real well and put pain in his legs so bad he couldn't walk besides. Some other stuff too. They had told him there were serious risks but really what choice did he have and sent him home.

Joey's back in the hospital home here now, got breathing problems and probably isn't gonna last much longer. You see Joey has incurable cancer in his liver and pancreas, probably initiated by his previous drinking. I think Doctor C knew it from the beginning, Doctor J knew it from the beginning, the nurses and even Joey himself knew it from the beginning. What I don't know is why Joey is forced to take this bastard pain when there are so many people who could help him. Like he said "This is wrong. No man should have to endure pain like this when you can do something about it. Just plain wrong."

Joey died a few months after this was written. I sent a copy to the nurses on the floor Joey was on in Hahneman's (Another reminder).

End of Joey

November 25, 1996

Click Here to read some letters from other Pancreatic sufferers.

Click here to see a diagram of the Pancreas.

Click here for an in depth discription of Pancreatic Cancer.

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