Harry’s Story: Finding Life’s “spark” After Pancreatic Cancer

In November 2017, a coworker approached Harry Sparks saying he didn’t look quite right. When he arrived home that afternoon, Harry’s wife Sandra gasped: “My gosh, Harry, you’re yellow!”

Harry, 62, has always been an active, healthy man. For the last four years, Harry has never missed playing in his friend’s annual church golf league or shied away from climbing up onto his roof to clean off leaves. Harry knew something was wrong.

He went to see his primary care physician, who urged him to get a CT scan and ultrasound. Harry was then told to go to Henry Ford Hospital for an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) to examine his pancreatic and bile ducts.

When he and Sandra arrived at the hospital, Harry met with gastroenterologist Cyrus Piraka, M.D., who specializes in digestive cancers. Dr. Piraka conducted a biopsy of the tumor on his pancreas and placed a stent in his bile duct a few days later.

Harry returned to Henry Ford that Monday with his wife and two daughters to hear the diagnosis: pancreatic cancer.

“I’ll never forget that moment because it hit me like a ton of bricks; it was just devastating,” recalls Harry. “While they were wheeling me out of the hospital, I was balling my eyes out. All I’ve ever wanted to do was be able to walk my two girls down the aisle one day.”

Immediately following his diagnosis, Harry rose resolute. “I woke up and I just knew I was going to beat it. I didn’t know how, but I knew.”

After consulting with David Kwon, M.D., Director of Surgical Oncology at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute, and Director of the Multidisciplinary Pancreas Clinic at Henry Ford Hospital, Harry received chemotherapy and radiation therapy at Henry Ford Cancer Institute - Brownstown.

During his cancer treatment, Harry’s church was speaking about baptisms at a Saturday service. After the service, Harry talked with his pastor about being baptized. His church arranged for the baptism soon after.

“Getting baptized changed everything. I felt that I was going to be okay. It was in God’s hands.”

In December 2018, after completing chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and developing neuropathy, Harry was told he didn’t need his last round of chemotherapy. His six-month scans had come back clear.

Every four months, Harry has blood drawn and scans done to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned. As of August 2019, his scans remained clear; no sign of cancer.

While he still has concerns for his future, Harry’s decided not to let it slow him down. While treatment last year prevented Harry from playing in his friend’s church golf league, he made it a point to have his golf clubs ready for this year’s league.

“I have to live every day. I’ve got too much life left to live, I’m only 62!” says Harry. “I’m back playing in the golf league with my partner, I’m up on the roof blowing off the leaves again, and I cut the grass last week. I’m back to my life.”

And, in April 2020, Harry will mark an important and proud milestone, one he thought might not be possible after his diagnosis: He will walk one of his daughters down the aisle at her wedding.

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