I am a four-and-a-half-year survivor of pancreatic cancer. At the time of my diagnosis in September of 2006, my life changed drastically when I was diagnosed with a 4.5 cm tumor – an adenocarcinoma – on the tail of my pancreas. I learned about it in a very unusual way and I realize now that there were many "little miracles" that helped me along the way.
At the time, I was going about my life raising three children and a niece, working as a registered nurse and under treatment with a rheumatologist for what we thought was polymyalgia rheumatica. He had been treating my vague back pain for four months when I decided to go to a gynecologist for a checkup.
This was my first miracle: scheduling an appointment with a new gynecologist and then seeing him just a few hours later. Something in his gut told him to draw blood and check my CA19-9 level (a tumor marker blood test); this was my second miracle. My CA 19-9 level was elevated to an abnormally high 3,500. I saw my primary care physician that same day, had a CT scan, and got the results within a few hours.
I saw an oncologist the next day and was informed that I could be a surgical candidate if my tumor would shrink through chemotherapy. I began four months of an aggressive chemotherapy regimen. I was then able to have a modified surgery to remove the tail and mid-body of my pancreas, left kidney, adrenal gland and spleen. Recovery was long, lasting five months. After that, I began chemoradiation.
After the chemoradiation, I went back on the original chemotherapy regimen for five more months until my CA19-9 level jumped from 12 to 12,800 in January of 2008 and a PET scan showed a liver metastasis. Then, I had three treatments of radiosurgery, which annihilated that tumor. After that, I started a new chemotherapy regimen. I was on that one for a few months and then started taking a targeted therapy drug until December of 2009, when a PET scan showed a small lung metastasis which was also treated with radiosurgery.
I have not been on any treatment since January of 2010 and today my CA19-9 level is 8. A recent PET scan also showed no sign of cancer!
When I was diagnosed, my family and friends gathered around and everyone was assigned a role. This got me through those first three years when I was undergoing aggressive treatment. Residual effects remain from all the aggressive treatments, and each has to be dealt with, but these are really just inconveniences in the grand scheme of things.
I have a fabulous support system and a positive attitude which is very important. I just knew I couldn't die at that time because I wasn't finished raising my children yet. I have been able to celebrate graduations, holidays and birthdays that not many people thought I would live to see. When people ask me if I wonder, "Why me?," I answer "Why NOT me?”
Living after a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer means that one’s “normal” has changed, but the gift given is the ability to give back for all that you have received. I am very thankful to my family, friends and doctors for their continued love and support. I hope to continue to survive and serve as the voice for the many who have already been lost to this vicious disease.