During the fall of 2008, as I was recovering from coronary bypass surgery, Stu, my husband, started having symptoms of his own.
At first, he thought that his gastrointestinal issues and unexpected weight loss were due to stress, or maybe a parasite picked up in the mountains of Turkey... or something, somewhere, somehow. Who knew that the painful passing of a kidney stone in mid-November would alert the ER docs to the out-of-whack results on Stu’s liver panel tests and serve to get the investigative ball rolling fast? In mid-December, Stu was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, in its early stages, we hoped.
During this time, a great joy entered our lives: granddaughter #1 was born on December 30th - Lillian.
On January 12, 2009, Stu entered a University hospital for the Whipple, an arduous surgery with the ultimate goal of removing the tumor located in the head of his pancreas. Unfortunately, the cancer had metastasized to the liver, making it a stage IV cancer, and the Whipple couldn’t be completed. The surgeon did some internal rearranging, removed his gall bladder, closed him up, and recommended systemic chemotherapy to deal with the metastases. She said she would continue to follow his case, be his cheerleader, and maybe get the opportunity to finish the Whipple in the future.
From February through July, Stu had alternating full weeks of chemotherapy. Each “on” week started with a day of infusion of gemcitabine, followed by seven days of oral Xeloda. He tolerated it well, kept his gorgeous curly black hair, but did end up with the burning, uncomfortable hand & foot syndrome, and some tolerable nausea and fatigue.
During this time, more joy entered our lives in the little form of Max, our first grandson.
Periodic CT scans showed good progress and the chemotherapy was doing what it was supposed to be doing- the spots outside of the pancreas disappeared. Yes, the tumor was still there, but appeared less full.
Once on his chemotherapy holiday, Stu was ready to take a real vacation and do some travelling for a month before he had to make some hard decisions on follow-up care. He had such a good result that now he was facing decisions that most people with pancreatic cancer don’t get to make. We’ve come to realize that Stu is one of the lucky ones with this disease.
It was a great trip to Austria, Canada, New York, plus a cruise to Nova Scotia and New England. And it was encouraging to come back home, start up with the CTs, PET scans, and learn that all the tests looked really good. The Whipple became a viable therapeutic option.
The big 16-hour surgery took place on October 7th, 2009, and the whole time, Stu was stable and strong. The surgeon and her team removed the tumor, and because of the growth of the disease into the body of the organ, the whole pancreas, along with the spleen. The very unusual aspect of all this is that there were two types of cancer present in the pancreas: ductal adenocarcinoma and neuroendocrine cancer. We understand that this is an extremely rare occurrence. In any case, as of the day of surgery, Stu is now a cancer-free diabetic. HOORAY! Of course, though we live scan to scan, we're cautiously optimistic and eternally hopeful.
We're both struggling with huge emotional ups and downs, as you would expect. It's a roller coaster ride - BUT, Stu and I both now have a "future" and a "life expectancy" that we never dared even to hope for...
Stu, the family and I are cautiously optimistic about the future. We all agree that, trusting God, we’ll enjoy each moment we can and see what happens. The journey is never dull (that’s for sure!) and it has been life-changing at the very least. Family and friends with loving thoughts, prayers, kindnesses, laughter and tears have been the mix, the foundation, the encouragement for Stu, our family and me along on this journey.