My journey with pancreatic cancer began in 1964.
I was only 9 years old.
Not old enough to know anything about this cancer, much less how it would affect my life some 30 years later. Too naïve to imagine that the very same disease would steal my father, my mother, my grandmother, my uncle and, in 2002, my own good health.
My parents taught and encouraged me to find the good in everyone and everything.
In this darkness, I have found light. During some of my darkest days, I found light when I become part of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, or as I refer to them, my “purple family.”
This organization has made great strides in the pancreatic cancer community. In fact, today I am very proud to be a part of the new Patient Registry, which I am using to record all the details of my treatments, side effects, doctor visits and more. The Patient Registry is designed to advance research through the information that I and other patients provide, improve treatment options, and overall get us closer to doubling pancreatic cancer survival by 2020.
But it’s also a way for me to leave a lasting legacy -- a legacy of love -- so that future patients, and perhaps even my own family, can benefit from the information that I record about my journey.
I am grateful for the opportunity I have to use services like the Patient Registry – services that are only possible because of the generosity of donors and because of the dedication of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in making progress against this disease.
Now, more about the love I have for my family and why the Patient Registry is so important to me.
My story isn’t meant to be heartbreaking, but rather, a heartening one about defying the odds. And how, through the good, the bad and the ugly – I’ve weathered the journey with my husband of 41 years, Vic.
Vic and I met and fell in love when I was only 15, and against all odds I married him at 18. Little did we know this would be the first of many times that, as a couple, we’d defy the odds over our four decades together.
When you’re young and healthy and you promise to stay with each other “in sickness and in health,” I don’t think you really give much thought to the meaning. Until you’re forced to…
In 1998, we were preparing for our oldest son’s graduation from UC Berkeley when we were hit with the news that my dad had pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer? How could this be? I can’t remember my dad ever being sick before that. And to hear those words, “I’m sorry…it’s pancreatic cancer…there is nothing we can do…you should go home and put your father’s affairs in order.” We were shell-shocked and at a loss for words.
My parents didn’t live locally. But Vic, understanding the importance of time spent with my dad, made the long drive with me to New Mexico every weekend. We continued this ritual until my dad’s death two months later. At his memorial, I was stunned to learn my grandmother had also died from pancreatic cancer.
Trying to find a new “normal” is never easy after a loss, but having to deal with another loss from the same disease that took my father and grandmother seemed so unfair: I lost my favorite uncle, my dad’s baby brother, to pancreatic cancer in 2002.
This was only a few months before facing my own diagnosis of this horrific disease, on April 1, 2002.
How many times had I heard the words pancreatic cancer? Apparently not enough, because I would hear them one more time when the cruel hands of fate dealt our family another blow…. my mother’s diagnosis in 2005. But Mom also defied the odds, surviving eight years before she died of the same disease that had taken her husband.
Love and never-ending support
Dealing with any disease can be overwhelming and cause a strain on even the strongest marriages. So much is taken out of your control when you hear those words, “I’m sorry…you have pancreatic cancer.”
I know my diagnosis has been hard on my family, on my two sons, and especially on Vic. He is a jack of all trades and can fix anything – we call him “Nino Fix-It.” I know how difficult it is for him to be confronted with a challenge he can’t fix. But in spite of it all, Vic has been there. He held back my hair when I was sick, brought me a cold cloth when I was faint and has put up with freezing cold temperatures year round -- a side effect of my treatments.
He has given me so much through this journey; his love and support are never-ending. He has supported every decision I have made, not only in my treatment decisions, but in how I reach out to give hope to others. Whether it has been through advocacy efforts, awareness events or fundraisers, he’s been there with me 200 percent, never questioning what I was asking but helping me find a way to make it happen.
It’s not always easy talking about my connections to pancreatic cancer, but I do it first and foremost for the love of my family and the pancreatic community.
If I can give hope to one person, so no other family has to hear “I’m sorry…it’s pancreatic cancer…go home and put your house in order,” then I’ve accomplished what I was put on earth to do.
And I’m thankful every day that my loving husband is by my side through it all.
14-year pancreatic cancer survivor
Affiliate Chair, Orange County (Calif.) Affiliate
Learn more about the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Patient Registry, being used by Roberta Luna and other survivors to advance research and in turn, leave a lasting, loving legacy for future patients.
You can also read Vic Luna’s adoring love letter to his wife, Roberta, here.
Make a donation today and bring hope to more pancreatic cancer patients.