In 1999, at the age of 41, I began a journey that has been the most difficult of my life — but also the greatest blessing. In April of 1999, after more than a year of recurring flu-like symptoms, abdominal pain and diarrhea, I developed itching over my entire body.
My doctor believed I had gallstones and ordered an ultrasound in preparation for surgery. We were both shocked when the ultrasound showed that I did not have gall stones, but, rather, I had a tumor on my pancreas. On June 3, 1999 I underwent a Whipple procedure to remove a 4 centimeter tumor. The diagnosis was adenocarcinoma, and there was no spread of the cancer to other organs or lymph nodes. I left the hospital after six days feeling hopeful that the cancer was gone. It was not until my first oncology visit that I was told that even with a successful resection and aggressive radiation and chemotherapy treatment, the chance of recurrence was very high. At that time, I had been readmitted to the hospital due to nausea, vomiting and severe weight loss. I returned to my room frightened and discouraged, the hope I had felt all but gone.
During my long stay in the hospital, I spent many hours alone, reading, praying and just thinking about what was important in life. When I was faced with the real possibility of premature death, I considered things I wanted to do, but might not ever get the chance to. I didn’t even think about fame, or fortune, or places I would never see. I thought about not seeing my ten year old son graduate from high school, or taking care of my parents in their old age, or growing old with my husband or ever knowing my grandchildren. It was for the chance to do these things that I wanted so much to live. When I left the hospital, I was ready to fight.
I decided to focus on the positive possibilities rather than the negative ones. I radically changed my diet to maximize my consumption of cancer fighting nutrients. I was able to experience the full depth of love of my family and friends who loved me, cared for me, prayed for me and helped me to see that I was not a statistic but a living, breathing person for whom there was still hope. I discovered that my faith was enough to sustain me no matter what I had to face. I grew so much stronger and my life was so much richer, my purpose clearer because of my journey with this disease.
I have now been cancer-free for almost nine years and I am grateful for every new day. I live a full life, enjoying every day knowing that no other is promised. I am honored to participate in the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s advocacy efforts and I am also privileged to speak to so many brave, strong survivors through the Patient and Liaison Services’ Survivor and Caregiver Network. I know how much it would have meant to me to be able to speak to someone who had survived pancreatic cancer, so I am glad to be able to provide this hope to other people fighting this disease.
I hope that my story will help others know that you must never, ever give up hope.