Lisa and I were planning to spend New Year's Eve at our ranch in New Mexico, as we'd done for the past few years. But first, we stopped off in Aspen to visit a couple of friends. It was there that I got the first hint that something was wrong.
I had been having some digestive trouble, mostly acid reflux and a kind of bloated feeling, for a few weeks. I've had a sensitive stomach my whole life, so I hadn't thought much of it, but lately I just couldn't shake the constant discomfort. I wasn't hungry and felt sick whenever I did eat, but I'd always been pretty healthy, so I figured the feeling would pass eventually.
In Aspen, we all raised glasses of champagne for a toast. I took a sip, and as the champagne began to course through my esophagus to my stomach, I nearly choked—it burned like acid going down. It felt like I'd drunk lye, a sharp, searing pain that brought tears to my eyes. I'd never felt anything like it, but not wanting to ruin the festivities, I said nothing to Lisa. I was used to ignoring pain, so I just didn't drink any more champagne that night, and didn't think anything more about it.
Three weeks later, in January 2008, I learned that the burning in my stomach wasn't some minor irritation. It was the result of blockage in my bile ducts, which was caused by pancreatic cancer—just about the most deadly, untreatable cancer you can get.
When my doctor at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles said the words "pancreatic cancer," a single thought popped into my mind: I'm a dead man. That's what I had always thought when I heard someone had pancreatic cancer, and it usually turned out to be true. My doctor told me that my chances of surviving for more than a few months weren't high, and I had no reason to doubt him.