My diagnosis seemed to be like a weird dream, an out of body experience. I was completely alone 1,000 miles away from home surrounded by patients who were three times my age. The reason why I was so far from home was because I was training to become a Corpsman in the U.S. Navy. I had already completed Boot Camp just a few months earlier with no complications and continued onto medical school with my mind full of dreams about the future. The first sign of a problem was a slow decline in my fitness performance. Before, I was running eight miles a day without exerting myself, and then I was struggling running a mile without my heart racing and feeling lightheaded.
My symptoms arose just after returning home from Christmas leave in Boston. When I returned, I noticed that my urine was exceedingly darker than usual and I thought I may have dehydration. When my back pain started, it seemed like a pulled muscle. When one of my buddies told me that my eyes looked yellow, I started to worry. After a couple of days I went to the base clinic, got blood work done and waited for the results. I was then sent to the local VA hospital where I was quarantined with the belief that I had hepatitis. They ruled out the possibility of hepatitis when the CT scan results came back.
It was my 24th birthday when I was told that I had a tumor at the head of my pancreas that was blocking my bile duct. At that moment, I felt nothing, not fear or sadness, it didn’t sink in yet. Then I got sent to a hospital 20 miles away for a stent procedure on my bile duct. After a couple of days, I went back to the base to wait to be sent home, and that is when I started to realize my situation. I might by going home to say my final goodbyes. That, for me, was the toughest part, to stay strong when all you I wanted to do was cry.
After a few weeks, I went back to Illinois for a Whipple Procedure. The surgery was a success, I walked the next day and left the hospital a few days later. From there I went to a rehabilitation center where other patients had resided. I was the youngest person there by 40 years. When I got home is when I started to feel normal again, after months of feeling helpless and unable to fight back. A month after coming home I started an aggressive chemotherapy regimen which went well with surprisingly few side effects and allowed me to start enjoying life again.
I am now a 32 month survivor and have gone through four rounds of chemotherapy to fight a recurrence. After the last round of chemotherapy stopped working, I chose to forgo any more treatments. I want to enjoy the time that I have left with my loved ones and creating lasting memories. I feel so unbelievably blessed to get as much time as I have.
I have a new understanding for how precious life is. I will live life with less restraint and not worry about the small stuff. I want to experience as many new things as possible. My message to those who are just diagnosed is to not just look at the statistics and to realize that every case is different. I would like to thank my family and friends for their support. BELIEVE.