Stage 4 pancreatic cancer: Jane's story

Photo of Jane Eshbaugh

On winter days, Jane Eshbaugh of Ellicottville, NY, wakes at the crack of dawn. After a cup of coffee, she makes her way to a peak of the slopes at Holiday Valley Ski Resort where she’ll take note of the temperature and surrounding conditions to later compile and share in a detailed ski report. Then, she straps on her skis and carves her way down the slope. This routine is one of joy for Jane, and a near constant in her life for more than four decades.

She’s built her life around skiing and the outdoors, from her career as Holiday Valley’s marketing director to countless ski trips and her marriage to Holiday Valley President and General Manager Dennis Eshbaugh. The couple has two daughters, Kate and Maggie, who both have thriving careers in the ski industry and a deep appreciation for adventure, just like their mom.

“Jane has given our kids the ability to see the world in a bigger manner, to enjoy every experience for the moment, to never lose track of the importance of making the best of what you have in front of you and appreciating what you have,” Dennis says. Though Jane’s now (semi) retired from her 41-year career at Holiday Valley, she still embraces the ski lifestyle and stays involved in day-to-day operations.

When the ski season ends, Jane finds other outdoor activities, including biking, sailing, swimming and running. She’s participated in the Ride for Roswell for close to 20 years and the Empire State Ride, a seven-day adventure across New York State, for four years. “Feeling the wind in my face is a little bit of a theme in my life. Whether I’m riding or skiing or hiking or doing anything outside. The wind in my face represents health, happiness and freedom,” Jane says.

An unexpected diagnosis

One year ago, Jane was training to ride her bike across the U.S. with her friend and fellow ESR rider, Bonnie. But Jane felt off during training. She made an appointment with her doctor and went through an ultrasound and other testing to pinpoint the issue. Then she received devastating news: She has stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

“When you first hear those words that someone you love has cancer, there is a numbness that overcomes you. There's a disconnect and potential for despair,” Dennis says. “But very quickly, you make a decision that there's a job to be done. And I think it is remarkable what we've been able to do as a family.” Their daughter, Kate, became the investigator, diving into Jane’s treatment and prognosis to fully understand Jane’s options. Maggie became the “soul” of the family, nourishing and supporting her loved ones, and Dennis became the facilitator, the one who saw to it that everything that needed to be done got done.

Gene testing connected her to an immunotherapy

Jane’s advanced staging made her ineligible for surgery. With guidance from her family, medical oncologist Christos Fountzilas, MD, FACP, and her care team at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, she decided on an aggressive treatment plan that included chemotherapy. She also had genetic testing of her genes and of her tumor. It revealed that her tumor had two actionable mutations that qualified her for an immunotherapy. Once Jane finished chemotherapy, she transitioned to immunotherapy treatments every three weeks. The difference between the two courses of treatment felt like night and day. With immunotherapy, Jane says she feels healthier and stronger overall compared to the highs and lows that come with chemotherapy. She’s able to do the activities that she loves, like training for the Empire State Ride.

“Roswell Park to me means hope,” Jane says. “When I go there, a guy is playing the piano or the accordion or the guitar. People walk in, and they're scared a lot of times when they come through the door. But then you see them realizing that this place is helping us to get better, especially when you hear them ring the bell.” According to Dennis, Jane undertook her cancer diagnosis with determination, optimism and a strong will. She's focused on always having a positive attitude, making the best of life at every step, despite the challenges.

“I have not cried ever since my diagnosis. I didn't even cry when the doctor told me that I had cancer or when I told Dennis or my kids,” Jane says. “But I'm going to cry when I ring that Victory Bell.”

Setting an example for her kids

Jane Eshbaugh double-fisted ice cream cones

When Jane’s mother was battling breast cancer, Jane said she didn’t dwell on her pain but instead focused on being the best she could be. As Jane goes through her own treatment, she’s trying to emulate that mindset and pass it on to her own daughters. Her daughter, Kate, has this message for her mom: “Mom, I want to tell you how inspiring you are to me. Throughout this journey, you have supported me as my mother, which is crazy because I'm the one who's supposed to be supporting you. But your ability to make the best of this and to keep living and to never give up, that's what keeps me going.”

Jane’s commitment to riding in the Empire State Ride continues, along with Dennis and a crew of others on Team Holiday Valley. “To end cancer is optimistic but doable. And every day, we get closer. One day it's going to happen. Empire State Ride is one part of those things that are going to help find that end to cancer.” Until that day, Jane plans to continue living in the moment and making the most of every adventure. “Being on my bike and doing the things I love to do, that's who I am. And cancer doesn't get to take that away from me,” she says.

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Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.