“It does not appear to have spread and the medical team — and I — are confident that we can realistically aim for a complete cure,” he said.
Sorenson joins a growing group of Americans who keep working while undergoing cancer treatment. More than half of the country’s 15.5 million cancer survivors are of “working age,” and many of them are choosing to stay in the workforce either because they have to, or want to, according to Rebecca V. Nellis, executive director of the nonprofit Cancer and Careers, which helps people navigate the workplace after their diagnosis.
“As treatments have improved and detection has changed, factoring in work to cancer treatment plans is increasingly common,” Nellis said. "The reasons for wanting to work are as varied as the people who get diagnosed: Everything from needing insurance and a paycheck, of course, to wanting to feel normal or contribute to society.”
“Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek, 78, who announced last month that he has stage four pancreatic cancer, has continued to host the popular game show since his diagnosis. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned to the bench 18 days after pancreatic cancer surgery in 2009. And Apple founder Steve Jobs kept leading the tech giant for years after he was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer in 2004. (He stepped down as chief executive in August 2011, just months before he died, at age 56.)
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that employers make “reasonable accommodations” for medical reasons, while the Family Medical Leave Act gives workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year.
Sorenson, who currently travels as many as 200 nights a year as part of his job, is likely to scale back in the coming months, Connie Kim, a spokeswoman for Marriott, said in an email.
“We are anticipating that Arne will modify his travel schedule a bit, particularly when he is actively undergoing treatment,” she said. “That said, he is energized by his work and committed to continuing that work while also undergoing treatment.”
Pancreatic cancer is notoriously difficult to diagnose and has the highest mortality rate among major cancers. The five-year survival rate for the disease is 9 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. It recently surpassed breast cancer as the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, behind lung cancer and colorectal cancer.
“With breast cancer, you feel a lump. With colon cancer you see bleeding in stool. But when it comes to pancreatic cancer, there’s nothing like that,” Daniel M. Labow, chief of the surgical oncology division at Mount Sinai Hospital told The Washington Post earlier this year.
Sorenson, who started his career as a lawyer at the firm Latham and Watkins, joined Marriott in 1996. He quickly climbed the company’s ranks and in 2012 became the first person outside of the Marriott family to run the business.
Since then, the hotel operator has grown rapidly, particularly in international markets. In 2016, Sorenson oversaw the company’s $13.6 billion takeover of rival Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which cemented Marriott’s status as the world’s largest hotelier.
The company -- which started as a root beer stand in Northwest Washington nearly a century ago -- now includes 7,000 properties across 30 brands, including Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis, Sheraton and Westin. Marriott announced this week that it is starting a home-rental program in several countries, making it the first major hotelier to offer such services.
Marriott last year reported $20.76 billion in revenue, making it one of the Washington region’s largest companies.