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Pritz overcomes cancer odds

Elmwood Township man defies grim prognosis to battle back against pancreatic cancer

By Kristen Hains
Special to the Herald

If Thom Pritz had believed his doctors two years ago, he wouldn't have lived to tell the story.

Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December 2004, Pritz was told by doctors in Traverse City that the prognosis wasn't good.

After frantically looking online, Pritz discovered a study at the University of Michigan that was "showing all kinds of promise.”

Pritz and his wife Jane traveled to U of M to meet with doctors there. The doctor's words weren't exactly what they had expected to hear.

"He said, 'this is a horrible disease and it's a horrible death BUT we would like you to be part of this study because when you die what happens is we can use the research to help other people,'” Pritz recalled. "I was like 'are you kidding me? I'm all about helping people, but I can do a lot more alive than I can dead.'”

Phone calls to the Mayo Clinic, Sloan-Kettering and M.D. Anderson all yielded the same answer: Pritz had three months to live. Everyone agreed that the prognosis was bleak.

Well, everyone except Pritz and his family.

"(The cancer) had spread and they told me I had three months to live,” Pritz said. "That wasn't acceptable to us.”

In spite of doctors warning that there was only a 3-4 percent survival rate, Pritz believed that just because the doctors said it, didn't mean it had to be so.

"I told them, 'then I intend to be part of that 3 or 4 percent,'” Pritz said. "Why would I automatically presume I'm going to be part of that 96 percent? I can't make that assumption. If I do, that's exactly where I'll end up.”

Pritz and his wife Jane decided to make a trip to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Zion, Ill.

"It was all about hope and a chance to fight this thing,” Pritz said of the philosophy of the facility. "They would never presume to tell anyone how long they have to live, it's all about hope.”

That's not to say he didn't have an uphill climb. Pancreatic cancer is one of the toughest to fight and survive, Pritz said.

"It's a very bad cancer, especially without surgery and I wasn't a candidate for surgery,” he said.

Still it was all about the hope that Cancer Treatment Centers of America offered Pritz and his family. "There isn't anything voodooish about what they do,” he said. "I had chemotherapy, radiation but they do a whole life, mind, body and spirit approach to it.”

Pritz said he had a naturopathic doctor, a pharmacist and a nutritionist who were all assigned to his case. "We went at it from a medical side and from a spiritual side and from a naturopathic side,” he said.

Pritz underwent chemotherapy for an entire year beginning in March 2005. Scans in December 2005 came back all clear, but Pritz continued with his final three months of chemotherapy.

In April 2006, doctors detected two small spots on his liver. Surgery determined that the spots were benign, however, Pritz developed an infection and ended up spending a week in the intensive care unit in Traverse City.

Again, doctors warned him that his prognosis wasn't good and that they didn't expect him to live through the night. "My daughter came in and said 'you're not going to die tonight,” he said. "At the same time I'm saying good-bye and my wife and I are making funeral arrangements but I'm thinking 'I'm not going to die tonight' ... I woke up two days later.”

It's now been more than two years since Pritz's original diagnosis. A December 2006 trip to Cancer Treatment Centers of America showed that his scans continue to be clear, without even a detection of the original tumor on his pancreas.

As Pritz continues on his journey and speaks with others traveling a similar road, he continues to carry one message.

"How dare someone tell you that you have three months to live or six months to live or whatever it is,” he said. "If your mind can tell you that you can die in six months ... then it can certainly work the opposite way. You can believe that you're going to live and be healed and talk your body through that.”

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