DOUGLAS — The fight continues for retired Douglas Police Sgt. Jose Duarte, who learned last month his cancer has metastasized to another part of his body and he will once again be forced to undergo a rigorous treatment procedure if he is to beat the deadly disease.
Duarte’s battle began in July 2015 when he was diagnosed with stage four esophageal cancer. Doctors gave him less than a 5% chance of survival adding they would “be surprised” if they saw him in a year. Following two years of intense treatments — which included a surgery that was done in San Diego where Jose underwent the removal of his entire stomach and four inches of his esophagus and doctors attached a piece of his small intestine to create a new stomach — Duarte had the beast licked, or so he thought.
Scans on Duarte’s cancer were being performed every three months. One test was clean, but a scan in April 2018 showed the cancer had returned in both adrenal glands. Radiation and chemo was done in an effort to get the upper hand on those tumors. In 2019 the cancer re-emerged, this time in his gallbladder and appendix, which led to more surgeries. A CT scan done in February revealed “there are multiple, at least six new metastatic liver lesions” on Duarte’s liver that are cancer.
“I continue to do chemo treatment every two weeks in Tucson,” the retired DPD sergeant said. “Lately I was starting to show a few more symptoms of being more tired, body aches as well as pain to the abdominal area and back. My doctor decided to do a CT scan and that’s when the lesions showed up.”
Duarte said his medications were changed to something a little stronger, which would also be easier on his kidneys.
“My kidneys were working a little too hard and that was part of the pain I was experiencing,” he said. “The first dose I got made me sick for almost two weeks. I was not feeling well in general. The second dose I got was a lot better and it’s something we’re continuing with. Now I’m also set up for radiation treatment because they want to see if they can wipe out the cancer in my left adrenal gland. That’s going to be done with Cochise Oncology in Sierra Vista.”
Duarte is getting a simulator assessment done in the next few weeks in Sierra Vista when his body will be measured and at which time the process for the next radiation treatment will be scheduled.
“This is a more aggressive type of treatment,” he said
Tanya Duarte, Jose’s wife of more than 20 years, said her husband had a similar type of treatment done about two years ago on his right adrenal gland, which seemed to work.
“I kind of have an idea what to expect (from this),” Duarte said. “There are a number of adverse effects it could have with the intestines as well as the digestive system. It could cause what’s left of my intestines and digestive system to shut down if we’re not careful. In the past I’ve experienced that and, oh man, it’s horrible.”
Tanya added that these upcoming treatments can be administered in smaller doses over a longer period of time or they can do five treatments in a much stronger dose.
“We’re going with the five in a stronger dose,” she said.
Both Tanya and Jose say battling cancer during COVID-19 has been a challenge. A COVID-19 test in August after a family member tested positive revealed Jose and Tanya tested negative for COVID but positive for the antibodies, indicating they unknowingly had COVID-19 at some point.
“We never knew we had it,” Tanya said. “We felt perfectly fine the entire time.”
“For me to find that out was actually scary,” Jose added. “Thankfully we did all that we had to do to keep ourselves and others safe. We wore our masks, self isolated and basically stayed at home as much as possible, even with my work.”
Duarte retired from the Douglas Police Department in April 2020 and shortly thereafter began a new job with the Arizona Department of Transportation in San Simon.
“Even with the treatments I was continuing to work 40 hours a week,” he said. “My bosses at ADOT have been extremely supportive and understanding with my care and scheduling. I really appreciate all that they are doing to help me get the time off I need to fight this.”
As treatments continued during the pandemic Tanya soon found herself not being allowed to go into the facility where Jose was getting his chemo treatments. She and Jose were able to keep up to date and get their questions answered through a speakerphone with the doctors.
“At first, because his treatments were so long, Jose was going up there by himself,” she said. “The drive home soon became more difficult for him due to the effects of the chemo. One time it took him almost four and a half hours to get home. That’s when I said enough and now I go up with him but will wait outside or go shopping while he is getting treated.”
The plan for the Duartes, they said, is to continue with the treatments and continue fighting this deadly disease.
“We’ve been fighting this for over five and a half years,” Jose said. “The doctors from Banner (University) as well as Cochise Oncology say there is a new drug available to help with the liver lesions as well as the regular cancer that I have. There are new drugs in place that weren’t there when I was first diagnosed.”
Both Tanya and Jose want the community to know they are fine and to please continue with the positive prayers and words of support and encouragement.
“My insurance thankfully is very good with the state right now,” Jose said. They have encountered some hiccups because the state changed insurance carriers, but that’s to be expected.
The cash from a community fundraiser that had been previously raised to help Jose with his treatments but was canceled due to COVID-19 have been forwarded to other local residents who are battling this deadly disease.
“Not having the Turkey Trot the last two years was sad,” Jose said. “I think COVID pretty much threw us all for a loop. Myself as well as my brothers continue to look for other ways we can help with fundraisers or whatever.”
“We’d rather be helping other people than have people helping us,” Tanya said.
Cancer is nothing new to the Duartes as both have a history of the disease in both families. Jose’s mom, prior to passing away several years ago, was a cancer survivor as is his sister and brother. Tanya lost her mom and her brother to cancer.
“The support we have received from this community has been truly amazing.” Jose said.