He wants to be known as ‘the 40-year-old guy who crushed pancreatic cancer”

Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Chad Handley knew he was in for a fight. When he heard the words “five years to live,” he came up swinging.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

His wife Jen was by his side. He calls her “his rock.” She smiled through tears as Chad Handley recently rang the bell at IU Health Simon Cancer Center signaling the end of his chemotherapy. On a chalkboard he wrote the words, “Much Love.”

There were a million other messages he could have written but this was one that he hopes transcends all things related to cancer.

“Cancer is here. It’s not going anywhere so I chose to stick with ‘much love,’” said Handley. After experiencing chest pain in June, Handley made an appointment with his family physician. Through additional tests, a mass was discovered on the head of his pancreas. Handley’s diagnosis was pancreatic cancer and he was initially given five years to live.

Through a friend, Handley discovered IU Health Dr. Max Schmidt and on July 1 he underwent a Pancreaticoduodenectomy (commonly called a “Whipple procedure”). The surgery involved removing the head of his pancreas, gallbladder, bile duct and a portion of his small intestine. After surgery he began seeing oncologist Dr. Patrick Loehrer and started chemotherapy on August 12.

The night before his last treatment he wrote: “Tomorrow ends another round of my battle with Pancreatic cancer. I’ve learned a lot about life, myself, my family, and how beautiful our lives are. When I was diagnosed June 10th, I was scared, mad, and scrambling about how to fight this. I felt like I was living each day as a battle – one day at a time, not knowing what the next day might bring.”

There were setbacks along the way, but still he persevered.

“With the unwavering support of my wife, my kids, my family, my business partners, my hometown friends, my college friends, parents of my kids’ friends, and a ton more people who I’ve met through my life, we lowered our heads and we battled through,” wrote Handley.

Throughout treatment Handley pushed himself physically – first taking mile-long walks with regular workouts and then increasing the distance and intensity of exercise. He maintained a strict diet and focused on life in two-week journeys: Chemotherapy on Monday followed by midweek works outs and coaching his kids Quinn, 11, and Darby, 9.

“I’d cry, sweat, work and build myself up for the next treatment. My mom, sister, aunts, uncles and numerous others were there to make sure I never faltered. I had in my head on my kids and that they would never see me sick,” he wrote. Each time he set a goal, he crushed it and added more. It was something he had control over and something he knew would strengthen him as he kept his eye on recovery.

In December he and his family traveled to Arizona where he tackled a five-mile hike and climbed the scenic Devils Bridge trail in Sedona.

With his chemotherapy complete, Handley said: “I 100 percent know this battle is not over but I do believe I have dominated the first couple of rounds and I have no plans of slowing down. IU Health Simon Cancer Center, Dr. Schmidt, Dr. Loehrer, physician assistant Natasha Porter, and all the nurses mean the world to us. My life is now turning to three-month scans and we will attack each one as we have attacked these treatments. I want to be known as the 40-year-old guy who crushes pancreatic cancer.”