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Living Life to the Fullest

Brian Parpart hasn't let his cancer diagnosis get him down

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Brian Parpart with friend John and wife Juilee at the Cancer Survivors' Celebration Walk & 5K in 2013. Image courtesy of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center

Back in 2010, Brian Parpart wasn’t feeling well. Unable to find an explanation for his sudden digestive issues, his doctor ordered a CT scan. The test would reveal that Brian had stage four Carcinoid Cancer, a rare neuroendocrine cancer that often targets the intestinal tract.

Officially diagnosed on April 26, 2010, Brian began treatments at Northwestern Memorial Hospital through the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, under the care of Dr. Al Benson.

Now 43, Brian recently completed a clinical trial through Northwestern that uses IV radiation. He will also be participating in the 21st Annual Cancer Survivors' Celebration Walk & 5K on June 1. It will be his fifth time participating in the event. Science in Society spoke with Brian in advance of the walk to learn more about his journey.

What was your initial reaction to your diagnosis?

I hadn’t really had a lot of exposure to cancer in my family. At the time, I didn’t have any friends who were sick or had died of cancer. I wasn’t really exposed to cancer on any level. So, I really didn’t know a whole lot about it.

But, with Carcinoid, you really have to educate yourself. Because, other than Medical Oncologist’s like Dr. Benson and people who specialize and see patients every day, it is not a common form of the disease that is seen very often.

You’ve just completed a clinical trial at Northwestern. What are the next steps in your treatment?

The radiation portion of clinical trial is done and now it’s just follow-up care, scans, blood work, etc., every 28 days, I will continue to receive a small injection that helps to slow the cancer growth. Carcinoid is a pretty rare disease. It often goes misdiagnosed for many years. No cancer is a good cancer, but Carcinoid, is typically very slow growing and fortunately in my case, doesn’t show a lot of negative symptoms.

I have another CT scheduled for June 18, to see how well the trial drugs are working. On the positive side of it, the tumors that I have in my body produce several hormones and the one that they really generate a lot of is serotonin. So, I’m always in a good mood.

My friends will tell you that I’ve always been a real positive person. My wife says it’s sometimes difficult to live with somebody who’s always in a good mood. I try to find a solution to a problem versus letting it drag out. I don’t sweat the small stuff, that’s for sure.

Would you say that your positive attitude has been the most important thing while going through treatments? What has kept you going?

I’d say the confidence that I have in the Robert H. Lurie Cancer Center. The team there is awesome. They’re just all really amazing people and I trust them unconditionally.

But, I would also say just educating myself has been real important. I try to get to my CTs before anybody else does because I want to read them and see what’s going on. I read all my blood work too. I’m very engaged in what’s going on with my health.

And, I would say my attitude has a lot to do with it. Does my attitude make a difference on my prognosis? Probably not. I don’t think it’s mind over matter, but who knows. At least I’m happy right now.

I heard that you’re really into snowmobiling and all sorts of outdoor activities. Have you been able to remain active throughout your treatments?

When I had my radiation treatment I was required to be sequestered from people for eight days. I couldn’t be any closer than three feet from adults and 15 feet from teenagers and young people. And with babies, not even in the same room, because I was giving off so much radiation.

A bunch of buddies and I have an apartment in the Western Upper Peninsula of Michigan that we rent all winter long. So, I would go up there and work and snowmobile. After my last treatment, I needed a summer sport, so I bought a Harley. I’ve had many motorized hobbies all my life, but I really wanted to buy something that I can use all summer long.  

I’ve put 2,000 miles on snowmobile trails this season and I’ve probably got 800 miles on my bike already this year.

Tell me about your saying, “Eat life otherwise life will eat you.”

My son was probably 13 when he said that to me. You eat life or life eats you. I don’t sit around and wait for things to happen. I’m a very social person. I would much rather throw a big party than have a quiet picnic, but I am beginning to understand how calm would be good for me too.

How has going to the survivors’ walk been for you?

I think it’s amazing that so many survivors get to come out on that day and take a break from treatment – take a break from cancer. It’s a celebration. There are no sad faces. Everybody’s really positive. It’s a great experience to be around that many survivors at one time and everybody seems to have such a great time.

What advice do you have for those who are battling cancer or who have loved ones who are?

I’m a huge proponent of educating myself about my particular type of cancer, but at the same time the Internet can just crush your spirits too, if you’re reading all the wrong stuff. I would say education, and maintaining a close relationship with your caregivers and your oncology team.

Initially cancer is extremely overwhelming until you have an idea of what to expect. Finding a cancer mentor would be one of the most important things you can do. When I was diagnosed I got involved in a Carcinoid website. It helped out a lot actually talking to somebody who’s gone through it.

I would also say, get involved with clinical trials, any opportunity you can. They are so important – not only what they can do for you, but for research. I hate the cliché, “I got cancer for a reason.” But, getting involved in clinical trials – I don’t think there are many things that are much more important than that.

Any other words of wisdom?

It’s not an individual effort. It’s a team sport. Let people help you.

Click here to register for the walk!

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