Survivor Story: Merle W. Griffin
On January 29, 2012 I celebrated ten years surviving pancreatic adenocarcinoma.
My symptoms were vague, just lack of appetite, gas, bloating, a little stomach discomfort, and just did not feel well in general. In January 2002 I saw my internist and had lab work done. He called me the next morning and said my liver enzymes were abnormal. He had already talked to a gastroenterologist, and I saw him the next morning. We talked briefly and he did an ERCP on Friday afternoon, thinking a stone was blocking the bile duct. However, when I woke up he said both the bile and pancreatic ducts were restricted, and a CT scan and CA 19-9 were done on Monday, January 21st. My husband and I went to talk to him and he told us there was an undefined mass on the head of the pancreas and gave us the options we had, the last being surgery. He added, “If it were my mother she would have surgery next week if possible.”
The gastroenterologist had already talked to a surgeon that I knew, and I saw him the same day. The surgeon talked about the Whipple and possible complications. I said, “I expect you to do a good enough job that there won’t be any complications.”
On Tuesday, January 29, 2002 I underwent the Whipple procedure which lasted eight hours. I don’t remember much about the eight days in ICU, but I do know that Merlene (my identical twin) was with me during the day. She and I are both retired registered nurses. Charles (my husband) was still working full time, so he came to the hospital every evening and some mornings on his way to work.
When I was transferred to a regular room on the surgical floor, my twin stayed with me day and night. After nine days on the surgical floor, I came home on our 44th wedding anniversary. I still had my feeding tube and four drainage tubes in my abdomen with a wide elastic band to hold them in place.
On March 18, 2002 I had my first chemotherapy. The chemotherapy wasn’t too bad; I was just a little tired and some nausea. The treatments were on Mondays and by the weekend I felt pretty good. After a scheduled break, I started radiation on May 9th which was planned for thirty treatments along with chemotherapy once a week for six weeks. My twin came back on May 9th for two more weeks. Fortunately for me she was back again on June 2nd when I awoke the next morning with diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and so weak I could barely walk. I had taken three weeks (once per week) of chemotherapy and seventeen days of radiation.
I went to my oncologist to see what was causing these problems. Merlene went with me and she asked about lab work. When lab tests were run the results showed most readings to be abnormal. For a week I went as an outpatient to the Diagnostic and Treatment Center at a nearby hospital and had plasma and IV fluids with electrolytes. There was not sufficient improvement so my oncologist said she would admit me to the hospital for a “couple of days” and give me whole blood and fluids.
I had enteritis and low blood counts so I was given two units of whole blood. I was in the hospital for eight days instead of a “couple of days.” One night I decided I would not continue the chemotherapy and radiation; it was just too much. The next morning my oncologist said we (she and the gastroenterologist) had decided to discontinue both chemotherapy and radiation. I said “good because I made that decision last night.”
Family and friends were a wonderful support group for me. My twin was with me for a total of seven weeks and our younger sister was with me for two weeks. Lisa (our daughter) took me to many of the chemotherapy or radiation treatments and kept family and friends up to date on “Mother’s Progress” reports. My husband was awakened many nights to restart the pump for the tube feeding and TPN. He took me back to the doctors for follow-up and treatments. Several friends brought food, both before I could eat and afterward. Also on two occasions friends took me to doctor’s appointments.
Here in Atlanta we have had six walks for pancreatic cancer. My husband, daughter, and I have participated in all six. My husband and I attend a pancreatic cancer support group meeting the first Thursday of each month to encourage those just diagnosed and those in treatment. I have also communicated with seven ladies who contacted me through the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Survivor and Caregiver Network. I call and send notes to encourage them. I actually got to see one on three different occasions.
I know many prayers were said during my recovery. I hope and pray that many more people with this dread disease will survive as I have been blessed.