Robert “Bob”

Robert BurckardtIn 2012, Bob had just returned home from a weekend away and started having belly pain. He assumed it was gall bladder stones and went to the emergency room for an ultrasound. Instead of gall stones, they found many lesions on his liver. After being admitted to the hospital for more tests and a biopsy of these lesions, he was diagnosed with pancreatic adenocarcinoma. He was told that it had already metastasized to his chest, abdomen, and neck. His prognosis was poor, and his life expectancy was short. Scared for his life, he started chemotherapy right away.

He said, “The hardest part of this diagnosis, for me, was this overwhelming feeling of isolation and lack of control. There was also this very strange loss of self-confidence. The easiest things suddenly seemed so monumental to me. And I kept thinking, I’m not ready to say goodbye yet. To my life, to the people I love. There’s still so much to do.”  Bob was working full-time as an anesthesiologist prior to his diagnosis. He retired immediately. 

During a break from his chemo treatments, Bob decided to visit the Mayo clinic. He said, “I wanted to try and get connected to the most cutting-edge therapies available.” After returning home, he received a shocking phone call –his initial diagnosis was wrong. He had a rare type of pancreatic cancer called neuroendocrine. This type of cancer is difficult to diagnose because it has little to no symptoms and can develop in many forms.

After his new diagnosis, he started researching doctors who worked and specialized in nothing but neuroendocrine cancer. He attended a patient symposium in New Orleans and met a specialist working at Vanderbilt Hospital. Vanderbilt was only a few hours away from his home in Kentucky, and coincidently, where Bob had received his medical training. He started seeing this new specialist and was able to receive his recommended treatments locally.

While undergoing treatment, Bob started getting involved at Gilda’s Club, where he found a great support system and met another patient with the same rare diagnosis. This patient was a German citizen living in the United States. He helped Bob get connected with a renowned neuroendocrine specialist in Germany. This physician was able to provide a treatment that was not yet available in the United States. Bob traveled to Germany 4 different times over the span of one year to receive this cutting-edge therapy.

Since then, Bob has been continuously treating his disease. He has received care from several different physicians in different parts of the United States.  He has had regular injections, multiple oral chemotherapy medications, surgical procedures, and several liver embolizations.  His treatment road has been long but has endured much more than any doctor expected.

It has been 10 years since Bob’s initial diagnosis. He said, “one thing I wish I knew before I started treatment was to just stop, take a breath, and think it all through. I was told I only had 90 days to live at first and jumped straight into the recommended treatment out of fear. Now after all these years, I’ve learned how to advocate for myself and make more informed decisions that are best for me. I’m so grateful that I’ve had 10 more years with my four children. It’s allowed me to say everything I wanted to say and spend invaluable time with them. It’s also given me the time to meet and get to know my seven grandchildren – five of whom have been born since my diagnosis.”

Bob lives with his wife, Sharon. He attends his grandson’s baseball games, spends time with his dog, and hunts in the winter with his 3 sons. He has also taken some classes at a local seminary. He quoted Psalm 90:4 when Moses compares a thousand years to the way a human being might think of one day. And Robert said, “you do the math. I am blessed to have been given so much more time with the people I love.”

Bob’s daughter, Jennifer Bach is a Pharmacist on the MTM team at Onco360. She said that her dad’s journey has made her much more empathetic as she talks to each patient. “Watching him fight this battle for over 10 years has been inspiring, and it has given me a personal understanding of what our patients, caregivers, and family members are going through. It is my goal to help each patient achieve the best possible result from their prescribed treatment, so that they may have more quality time with the ones they love.”

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