By Tomise Martin and Dawn Dorsey, Staff Writers
Growing up in Louisiana, Roger Giles ate plenty of farm-fresh vegetables. But, true to Southern cooking traditions, they often were fried in bacon grease and served with high-fat foods like buttered cornbread and biscuits.
"When I graduated from high school, I was athletic and weighed 195 pounds," Giles says. "But, as I entered my early adult years, I started having 'yo-yo' weight gain. By my mid-50s, my weight had ballooned to the 270-plus range."
Pain was the first sign
Last year, Giles had two attacks of acute pancreatitis, a sudden inflammation of the pancreas that frequently is painful. When he felt the symptoms returning in October, he went back to the doctor, hoping for some answers.
"We did a lot of tests, but none of them were conclusive," he says. "They couldn't find the problem, and I really wanted to know what was going on. We suspected cancer, so I went to
M. D. Anderson." Giles was admitted to M. D. Anderson on Dec. 15, and two weeks later he was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, the most common form of pancreatic cancer.
Diagnosis was not a shock
"To be quite honest, I wasn't the least bit surprised," he says. "I recognized I had some kind of serious problem internally; I just didn't know what it was."
To treat the cancer, Giles had eight weekly treatments of chemotherapy, followed by six weeks of daily radiation treatment.
"From the beginning, my sole goal has been to attack this disease with the most aggressive treatment available," he says.
Weight, cancer are linked
In addition, Giles participated in a study at M. D. Anderson that showed a relationship between high body mass index (BMI) and pancreatic cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States. More than 42,400 people will be diagnosed with this disease, and more than 35,400 will die from it this year.
He's found the right weight
When the pancreatitis hit last fall, Giles weighed 272 pounds. Within a week, he started losing weight at an alarming rate.
"I was losing a pound a day; within four weeks I lost more than 20 pounds," he says. "I couldn't eat solid foods because the pain was excruciating, and I put myself on Ensure to maintain nutrition."
Now, after losing even more weight during treatment, Giles' weight has leveled off at 185 pounds, and he says he feels comfortable there.
"My diet has changed drastically," he says. "I've lost 90 pounds. I'm at a healthy weight, and I understand the importance of staying fit."
It's time to change
Giles has always enjoyed gardening, and now it serves as more than just a favorite pastime that occupies his thoughts during and between treatments. It contributes to his diet and is a reminder to be healthy.
These days, he sticks to a low-fat diet built on fresh vegetables from his garden and stays active. He's also on somewhat of a one-man mission to convince people of the importance of healthful eating.
"Statistics say more than half the people in our country are overweight," he says. "It's time we awakened to that fact. As a nation, we all need to change the way we eat, especially fast food, and high-fat and high-calorie diets. It's an ongoing struggle."
Q&A: Pancreatic Cancer and Obesity
M. D. Anderson resources
Gastrointestinal Cancer Center
Pancreatic cancer (National Cancer Institute)
After Pancreatic Cancer, 'Southern Style' Gets A Healthy Makeover
By Tomise Martin and Dawn Dorsey, Staff Writers
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