16-year pancreatic cancer survivor with team members of 5K walk event smile as top fundraisers

Cathy Quon, in white and holding a "Top Team Fundraiser" certificate of appreciation from PanCAN, with members of Team Quon at PurpleStride San Francisco 2018.

Editor’s note: Our weekly “It Starts with Someone” series takes a turn this month as we focus solely on people who have survived pancreatic cancer for more than a decade. Today, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network fundraiser and supporter Cathy Quon from California shares her 16-year journey with pancreatic cancer. Keep an eye out for more stories from long-term survivors every week in August.

It’s got to be appendicitis, I thought, after lunch with a friend in the company cafeteria. The pain was so great that I had to have my husband come pick me up at work. After being in and out of the hospital for a couple of days with a CT-scan, MRI and biopsy, we met with the general surgeon. “Pancreatic cancer,” he said. “Is that a bad cancer?” I asked. Meanwhile, my husband was blanching.

That was 16 years ago.

16-year survivor and husband hold a sign for walk to end pancreatic cancer in San Francisco

Cathy Quon and her husband, Joel, at PurpleStride San Francisco.

After the initial shock (and it was shocking), my first thought was, “I am not going to die.” I got second and third opinions at the best hospitals in my area. Had I listened to the first oncologist, I would be dead by now as he diagnosed it as adenocarcinoma and was about to give me drugs for that.

The second oncologist suspected it was a neuroendocrine tumor but couldn’t operate and advised me to get my affairs in order. The third oncologist said it was, correctly, a neuroendocrine tumor and let’s try to operate.

 

 

Turns out the sucker was the size of a small grapefruit and had wrapped around one of the major arteries to my digestive system.

Long-term survivor and her husband

Cathy and Joel

One massive 17-hour surgery, several recurrences and surgical ablations, and rounds of oral chemotherapy later, I am still alive, working fulltime at a demanding consulting job, exercising regularly, and leading a happy life!

I know I am lucky to be alive. I fully believe that fortunate genetics, advances in the medical field (new chemo drugs), and a positive attitude have saved me – along with a wonderful husband, family and friends.

I must take my pancreatic enzymes at every meal and be a little careful with fatty foods, but I’ll give up my French fries any day to live the life I have.

Despite my many surgical scars and, thankfully, currently dormant tumors, I don’t think of myself as a cancer survivor most days. I live in the present and use my positive attitude to prevent me from going into dark places that often plague cancer victims or survivors.

Long-term pancreatic cancer survivor and her husband wear bike helmets as part of her exercise

Cathy and Joel enjoy a bike ride near their San Francisco Bay area home.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with this challenging cancer, I offer a few practical tips:

Don’t give up on the first try. Seek a second or even third opinion. Advocate for yourself – no one else will.

Ask for help from family and friends – don’t be a martyr. Take one day at a time. Before you go to sleep, think of one thing per day that made you happy – even a tiny thing.

And be gentle on yourself.

-- Cathy Quon, 16-year pancreatic cancer survivor

 

For information about specialists in your area, pancreatic enzymes or other resources related to pancreatic cancer, contact Patient Central.