BY PHIL CUSTODIO
Clarkston News Editor
The prognosis faced by Celeste Wood of Clarkston is undeniably serious. But the longtime teacher’s focus remains the same – helping others.
Part of that includes spending the past six months taking part in a pancreatic cancer clinical trial.
“It could lead to a cure for everyone else, including my daughter,” said Wood, 45. “It allows more options on the table as a patient – standard care plus the possibility of something more.”
She gains strength from her husband, Jared, daughter Emerson, family, friends, coworkers, and students at her school. Many are in the Woods Warriors, a group raising funds and awareness for Celeste and cancer research.
“We could not be where we are without all of them,” she said.
“We’re stronger because we are surrounded by love.”
“Celeste inspires us,” Jared said. “She’s beautiful.”
Figuring out her illness was a long process, Celeste said.
“I had some pains for a while. We were searching for what it was,” she said.
Her gall bladder was found to be not working so it was taken out early last year.
“They assumed that would be the end of my ailments but it wasn’t. It took several months to realize there was still something going on,” she said. “I put it off little bit, trying to figure it out. I wanted to get through the end of the school year and figure it out in the summer.”
The first tests came back negative but the symptoms, including backaches and digestive issues, continued.
Her general practitioner encouraged more tests, and finally in July 2017, a biopsy, CAT scan, and MRI showed it was pancreatic cancer.
“From there, we went into, what do we do now?” she said.
Her sister Heather Wiley and husband helped her search for effective treatments, which led them to Johns Hopkins in Maryland, where they were working on a clinical trial. University of Michigan was supporting the trial, and they met with a team of doctors there.
“It’s a blind trial. We don’t know if I’m getting the medicine or not,” Celeste said. “We felt, I’ll be getting standard care, though not necessarily the trial drug. We’re confident. No matter what, I would be getting the chemo I need, whether I got the placebo or not. That’s one of the risks you take when you go into a trial.”
They worked with Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PANCAN) when researching their options.
“You get so much information on the symptoms, the trial matching tools – if you don’t have anyone tell you that, you don’t know where to look,” Celeste said.
“Clinical trials give patients early access to leading-edge treatments that can lead to progress in research, improved treatment options for more patients and better outcomes,” said Loredana Gianino, PANCAN–Detroit Affiliate. “Every cancer treatment available today was approved through a clinical trial.”
Celeste will undergo CAT scans and tests every two months during the trial.
“They’re hesitant to say it’s going well. We’re dealing with it. I don’t know if it can go any better,” Jared said. “We’ve been through some depressing meetings. It’s not going to happen today or tomorrow. The hope is for her to heal a little today, and see how it goes.”
“It’s not something you would ever think you’d have to look at,” Celeste said. ” I prefer not to pay attention to the numbers. I want to be my own story. We might be able to prove them wrong.”
Celeste was born in Clarkston, and graduated from Clarkston High School in 1990 before getting her teaching degree at Michigan State University. When deciding where to settle to raise their family, she and Jared chose to stay in Clarkston.
“My parents and sister live here. I was never moving away,” she said. “We’re super fortunate to live in the community we live in. Clarkston is a pretty special place as a community. It’s another reason why we never moved.”
She has been teaching for 22 years, at the elementary level and sixth grade at Scripps Middle School in Lake Orion.
“The kids have caught on to how they can make a difference,” she said. “They wear sweatshirts my daughter designed, Woods Warriors, symbols of being strong. Their dodgeball team won their big game and donated it to pancreatic cancer..”
January is National Pancreatic Cancer Clinical Trials Awareness Month. It’s a time to spread the word about PANCAN’s resources, which include patient resources like Know Your Tumor; Clinical Trial Finder, access to the most up-to-date and comprehensive pancreatic cancer clinical trial database in the United States; and Patient Registry, global database of patient information to help advance research and improve patient care, Gianino said.
“A lot of women my age know someone who has it,” Celeste said. “Research is underfunded compared to other cancers. It’s definitely a difficult cancer. There needs to be more resources. I feel if my story helps someone else down the road to not put off checking the symptoms, if I can help one person, it’s worth it.”
For information, call 877-2-PANCAN.