Frank Wiltse, 59, of Plainfield said he did hesitate, at first, when asked to throw the first pitch at Saturday’s Joliet Slammers game.
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s “Time for Hope” community ambassadors are hosting a Pancreatic Cancer Awareness night on Saturday at Duly Health and Care Field in Joliet. Frank was diagnosed on April 25, 2021 and is a 15-month-survivor.
“I didn’t know how I felt about advertising my disease,” Frank said. “It’s a daily struggle on dealing with this cancer, as with any sickness, I’m sure – but I can only reflect on myself. Then a funny thing happened.”
The “funny thing” was a trip to North Carolina with his wife Shurl-Lyn to visit his sister and see Jimmy Buffet in concert. Because that’s where Frank stumbled upon PanCAN PurpleStride Charlotte on April 30.
“I didn’t even know about it,” Frank said.
This event attracted thousands of participants to raise money for scientific research, patient services, government advocacy and community engagement, according to the PurpleStride website. Frank said participants wore purple shirts, except for survivors.
Survivors wore white shirts, he said.
“There were five of us,” Frank said.
So Frank decided to speak up about his cancer.
“I realized that, maybe I do need to get out of my comfort zone and allow people to know that some days I do need help,” Frank said. “It’s hard for a Marine Corps veteran to say, ‘I need help.’”
Audrey Montalto, event coordinator for the community ambassadors of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, said having Frank throw out the first pitch is especially exciting, considering Frank was the opening day pitcher in the 1993 movie “Rookie of the Year.”
“We have a whole bio on him we’re going to read,” Montalto said.
John Hopkins University, where Frank said he received a second opinion, said pancreatic cancer is potentially curable if caught early: up to 10% of patients stay cancer-free after treatment, for three-and-a-half years on average. The five-year survival rate is 20 to 30 percent – because tumors can still grow back, according to John Hopkins University.
Frank’s cancer was caught early, and almost by chance, he said.
“I had some trouble eating for a couple of days,” Frank said. “I’m a foodie. If I don’t want to eat, something is terribly wrong. So when I started to be afraid to eat, I knew I had to go to the hospital.”
Fortunately, doctors removed his tumor on May 14, 2021 using the Whipple procedure. The head of the pancreas, duodenum, gallbladder and bile duct are removed during the procedure, according to Mayo Clinic.
Numerous complications, including a fistula, followed, Frank said. Frank’s had a total of three open abdominal surgeries and “four or five” endoscopies, he said.
In fact, Frank was on his way to a procedure when he walked to The Herald-News on Tuesday.
“If you’d talked to me 24 hours ago, it’d be a totally different conversation. That’s where I’m at with this disease,” Frank said. “Yesterday I had trouble standing up. It was a terrible day yesterday. Today is different. I want to find out, hopefully, why I’ve gone backwards in my recovery. Because a month ago, for about three months, I was feeling good and looking forward, hopeful, as opposed to the daily worry of, ‘Am I going to die soon?’”
On Tuesday, Frank was scheduled for an upper endoscopy and ultrasound to locate the source of pain, he said.
“Through all my surgeries and chemo and everything else, I never did have any pain,” Frank said. “And now I’ve got pain. We’ve got to figure out if something shifted, something changed. We just don’t know.”
He credited Shurl-Lyn with keeping him alive. Shurl-Lyn said she’s a “take charge, no-nonsense kind of person,” who “puts blinders on” and does “what needs to be done.”
“That gave me the courage to be a huge advocate for my husband, to not take status quo and to demand the right treatments and demand the right care for my husband,” she said.
Shurl-Lyn said Frank was invited to throw the first pitch last year, but his health “took a nosedive.”
She’s glad he accepted this year.
“I was hoping he’d be all in and he was all in,” Shurl-Lyn said. “I knew he wanted to be more engaged with the cause. I know how emotional it’s going to be for him. But the more that we can do and the more that he can get involved, I think the more cathartic it’s going to be. It’s tough to be positive; I’m not going to lie. But the more we see him do things, the more hope we have.”
Source: The Daily Chronicle