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Survivor Story: Russ Carlson

11/12/2013
My name is Russ and this past November 3, 2013 was my 13th anniversary as a pancreatic cancer survivor.  I was diagnosed in October, 2000 after a CT scan showed a tumor on my pancreas that was attached to my spleen.  I had surgery on November 3, 2000 to remove 40% of my pancreas, my entire spleen, a slice of my kidney, and five lymph nodes.  I didn't learn until many years later, when I was going through the pathology report, that it was adenosquamous carcinoma of the pancreas.  Within a few weeks after surgery, I started chemotherapy for 24/7 non-stop for five weeks.  I also had radiation during the same five weeks.  It was devastating, and towards the end I was crawling on the floor on my hands and knees until I could get enough strength to stand up.  They did a second round of chemotherapy, but it wasn't nearly as bad as the first round.  It was one day a week, three hours a day, for nine weeks.
 
So many people with cancer have asked the question, “When do you become a survivor?”  For me it was the day of my surgery...when I began my journey to survivorship.  At about 18 months after my surgery, I began to ask the question, “Why did I survive pancreatic cancer, while so many others didn’t?”  The challenge of living had been discovering my purpose, and the experiences that I have been through to help others who were battling this horrible disease.  As a cancer survivor, my life as I knew it, was not the same anymore.  All cancer survivors have a new life that we call, “our new normal.”  So many things have changed, but the memory of what I went through will be with me for the rest of my life.  There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about what this disease has done to me.  I will never forget the day I heard the words, “you have pancreatic cancer.”  Even though I am in remission, I do, at times, allow myself the time to reflect, and feel the sorrow of that day.  This is why it is so important for me to be able to tell my story to others who have cancer.  It is great therapy for me and it gives hope to others that this disease can be beat!

In addition to the physical challenges that I have dealt with over the years (post-cancer), there are so many other changes on how I view life today.  I am thoroughly enjoying my life as it is today and I would not change a thing.  I have even taken up drawing and painting and really enjoy it (you can see a couple of my works here).  However, I do think about death more than I ever have…it has to do with age as well as the fact that I faced death one time already with pancreatic cancer.  But as I have said before, “I am at peace with what happened to me in the past, and I am at peace with what will happen to me in the future.”  A huge factor in my recovery process is the understanding of my new normal life, and accepting it for what it is today.  Don't force yourself into trying to go back to what your life used to be pre-cancer.  There are so many things that will change...not only physically, but mentally as well.  Embrace your new normal life...don't fight it.  You are never void of cancer and its affects, and I must admit that sometimes it is very difficult to remain positive.  For me my cancer journey is never ending.  We all have our own way of dealing with cancer and I choose to tell my story to others.
 
I am not a professional counselor but until someone has gone through what I, and millions of others have gone through, you cannot tell another cancer victim how they should feel.  First the initial shock of hearing that you have this deadly disease called pancreatic cancer, and then the surgery, and then they tell you that the survival rate for stage IV pancreatic cancer is 2% for the first three years, and if you make it past three years you then have a 6% chance of making it five years.  But I cannot focus on self-pity…or waste my time thinking of how unfair this is to me.  I have always been a positive person and nothing will change that, but this is certainly a true test of my strength and determination.  And if I can make a difference in just one person’s outlook about how to deal with this disease I feel that I have done something...it makes me feel better.  This is what my purpose is all about...it is a never ending journey.  Remember this…when you discover what your purpose of being a cancer survivor is, make it your life’s challenge.



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