In January, 2012 I began to have issues that reminded me of an ulcer. My primary care physician changed my reflux medicine and said see you in a week. When I returned a week later still feeling bad, she noticed a yellow tinge in my eyes. She felt we were dealing with a rogue gall stone in the bile duct. By the next day I was yellow all over. I was referred to a gastroenterologist who did an ERCP, but walked out and said, “I couldn't see what I wanted. You have an appointment tomorrow with the best gastroenterologist in the business.” The next morning they saw a growth on the head of my pancreas, pushing on the bile duct. They placed a stent in the duct to help with the jaundice.
In walked my first guardian angel, the surgeon who held my hand and said, “You have a growth that I am certain with the Whipple procedure, we can get.” He said, “This is going to be big...it's pancreatic cancer.” I had lost two friends to this cancer and I always thought of it as a death sentence. I said, “I have my first grandchild being born next month.” He smiled and said, “You won't be there for the birth, but I promise you will be there for her first birthday.”
My official diagnosis was stage IIB pancreatic cancer, clean margins, and 4 out of 20 lymph nodes positive. In the year 2012, I was blessed with the best doctors and two granddaughters. I have survived the ongoing recovery of the Whipple and chemotherapy, and will soon celebrate my 42nd wedding anniversary. I have been given a chance to see my grandchildren grow, be surrounded by caring people, and be able to play a little golf. My oncologist always greets me with a smile and a hug. Her attitude is “be positive and live.”
My family participated in the local PurpleStride event in June. I was so humbled to see people who lost loved ones to this disease not to be jealous of the survivors, but to rejoice for us. I think many survivors must ask themselves why me - not because of the cancer - but why was I chosen to be diagnosed so early? My prayer is that in the future there will be a simple test that a person has during a yearly physical that allows for early detection.
There is no cancer in my family. I'm 61, and except for my body trying to get used to my new plumbing, I look in the mirror and I look well. I found on Facebook a fantastic group of Whipple survivors and we share and vent all our troubles and joys. I have a very supportive husband, two married sons we adopted from Korea, and the two little charmers that God said, “I'm giving [you] a lot to deal with but I'm throwing in two surprises.” I can deal with that. We all have a bucket list. Mine is to be with my grandchildren for a long time and be the most fun Nana they can have.