A year ago, Tony Brown was reffing his first NBA Finals. Now, he’s fighting for his life.

One minute a top-notch NBA referee was on the court with some of the finest athletes in the world. Moments later, he’d be fighting for his life. If you’re an NBA basketball fan, you’re familiar with the physical conditioning required to cover 94 feet of hardwood for 48 minutes. NBA officials cover six to eight miles during a competition. They’re almost as fit as the guys they watch from night to night.

Tony Brown was supposed to be covering the NBA Finals this, until an unexpected visit to the doctor changed all of that.

Here is his story:

Let’s Talk About Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer begins in the tissues of your pancreas — an organ in your abdomen that lies behind the lower part of your stomach. Your pancreas releases enzymes that aid digestion and produces hormones that help manage your blood sugar.

Several types of growths can occur in the pancreas, including cancerous and noncancerous tumors. The most common type of cancer that forms in the pancreas begins in the cells that line the ducts that carry digestive enzymes out of the pancreas (pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma).

Pancreatic cancer is seldom detected at its early stages when it’s most curable. This is because it often doesn’t cause symptoms until after it has spread to other organs.

Pancreatic cancer treatment options are chosen based on the extent of the cancer. Options may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of these.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer often don’t occur until the disease is advanced. They may include:

  • Abdominal pain that radiates to your back
  • Loss of appetite or unintended weight loss
  • Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
  • Light-colored stools
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Itchy skin
  • New diagnosis of diabetes or existing diabetes that’s becoming more difficult to control
  • Blood clots
  • Fatigue

Causes

It’s not clear what causes pancreatic cancer. Doctors have identified some factors that may increase the risk of this type of cancer, including smoking and having certain inherited gene mutations.

Understanding your pancreas

Your pancreas is about 6 inches (15 centimeters) long and looks something like a pear lying on its side. It releases (secretes) hormones, including insulin, to help your body process sugar in the foods you eat. And it produces digestive juices to help your body digest food and absorb nutrients.

How pancreatic cancer forms

Pancreatic cancer occurs when cells in your pancreas develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. A cell’s DNA contains the instructions that tell a cell what to do. These mutations tell the cells to grow uncontrollably and to continue living after normal cells would die. These accumulating cells can form a tumor. When left untreated, the pancreatic cancer cells can spread to nearby organs and blood vessels and to distant parts of the body.

Most pancreatic cancer begins in the cells that line the ducts of the pancreas. This type of cancer is called pancreatic adenocarcinoma or pancreatic exocrine cancer. Less frequently, cancer can form in the hormone-producing cells or the neuroendocrine cells of the pancreas. These types of cancer are called pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, islet cell tumors or pancreatic endocrine cancer.

Risk factors

Factors that may increase your risk of pancreatic cancer include:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
  • Family history of genetic syndromes that can increase cancer risk, including a BRCA2 gene mutation, Lynch syndrome and familial atypical mole-malignant melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome
  • Family history of pancreatic cancer
  • Obesity
  • Older age, as most people are diagnosed after age 65

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if you experience any unexplained symptoms that worry you. Many other conditions can cause these symptoms, so your doctor may check for these conditions as well as for pancreatic cancer.

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