To start 2020, 29-year-old Robyn Hobson was named Teacher of the Year at her school. Five months later, she was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer.
But the fourth grade math and science teacher refuses to let that get her down.
“I want to bring a positive voice to this disease,” she said.
She’s teaming up with local Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) volunteers to do that by sharing her story and positivity – and raising awareness of the disease through social media and community events.
In May, Robyn had gone to the doctor with some side pain and nausea that wouldn’t go away. “I felt pretty normal, and the doctors told me I was in great shape and great health and they didn’t think anything major was wrong.”
But just a week after her initial visit (following a second visit when the symptoms still hadn’t gone away), blood work showed something was really off, and she was rushed to an emergency ultrasound and briefed by her primary care physician.
They had found cancerous tumors in her pancreas and liver.
Over the course of the next week, she dashed from appointment to appointment, procedure to procedure. Oncologists, gastroenterologists, biopsies, stents. All followed by a 10-day hospital stay for pancreatitis that resulted in a C. diff infection (severe intestinal inflammation) and “the worst pain I’ve experienced in my life.”
But once the infection cleared up, Robyn was able to start treatment that she’d agreed upon with her doctors after getting multiple opinions – an oral (pill) chemotherapy and an injection to stop the tumor growth.
She has pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PNETs) – a rare form of pancreatic cancer affecting only 7% of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. PNETs are treated differently than the more common adenocarcinoma.
For more information about types of pancreatic cancer, diagnosis and treatment, contact PanCAN’s Patient Services.
Robyn is grateful for her healthcare team.
“My oncologist is the greatest person ever. He talks to other oncologists, and he really spread my story when I was first diagnosed to make sure he got the right answers for what I needed.”
Today, Robyn is feeling good. “I’m doing really well. I cannot complain. I live a very different life than I did six months ago, but I’ve adjusted. My family and friends have adjusted.
“I do have bad days, but there are so many things to be grateful for.”
She’s still teaching – though virtually, due to the coronavirus pandemic. She never thought about stopping, saying, “I’ve always known that teaching is what I was put on this earth to do.
“I love watching kids have an ‘aha’ moment. One minute they’re struggling, and the next, they just get it. My hope is that I’m helping raise the next generation of strong, independent thinkers.”
She’s also done things she never would have done before. “I stopped planning and worrying about things that didn’t really matter. I started living once I was diagnosed.”
She wants others diagnosed with pancreatic cancer to know not to let this disease define them. “It’s not who we are. It’s just part of us. Live every day to the fullest.”
She knows it’s easier said than done, but her support network helps make it possible for her to live with that mindset. She’s hoping to inspire others to be positive by sharing her story, including on her YouTube Channel.
She recently joined the PanCAN Charlotte Affiliate of volunteers as the social media co-chair and PurpleLight chair.
“Sandra, the Affiliate Chair, invited me to join a meeting, and in that one meeting, I instantly felt supported by these people I didn’t know. They took me under their wing and made me feel welcome – and less alone.”
When Robyn helped the Affiliate come up with ideas for their social media channels during November, Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, she had fun collaborating with others to engage their community on the platforms. She also liked getting others in her community – including her friends, family and school – involved in spreading awareness about the cause.
She’s looking forward to using her new volunteer role with the affiliate to continue engaging with others and getting the word out about this disease – and to share the positivity and hope she knows is possible after diagnosis.
“I need to be the positivity that people see. There’s someone out there like me who needs to see this.
“It’s okay to be positive in a negative situation. It’s okay to be happy.”
Any treatments, including clinical trials, mentioned in this story may not be appropriate or available for all patients. Doctors take many things into account when prescribing treatments including the stage and type of cancer and the overall health of the patient.