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Survivor Story: Scherry Samuels

My husband and I were on vacation in Florida in January, 2013, when I started itching. It was uncontrollable, middle of the night, holding a bag of frozen veggies to calm my hands itching. Believing I had an allergic reaction to something, I went to a walk-in clinic and was prescribed medication for the itch. I’d been to the doctor multiple times for months just feeling ‘off’ — general lethargy, depression that came and went, digestive issues, but nothing showed up in tests.

After we moved on to the next campground I got a call to go to the nearest emergency room immediately, which I did. The clinic passed on my lab work to the emergency team and more tests were done including a CT scan - the diagnosis: pancreatic cancer.

What? I had quit smoking to avoid lung cancer, breastfed two children which the research assured me would fight against breast cancer, stayed out of the sun to avoid skin cancer, and got regular testing and checkups and everything else I could think of. I did my best to be healthy. But this one, pancreatic cancer? Ain’t nothin’ you can do about that one. I got ‘gobsmacked.’

We hurried home to Tennessee, where we had moved barely six months before, with no idea where to go for help. Strangers in a strange land, I went online and found two highly recommended hospitals nearby. One had an excellent website and a nurse facilitator. She was an angel from heaven who, when I called on a Thursday, got me set up with a gastroenterologist the following Monday, and a surgeon on Wednesday.

Sliding into the system at the hospital, I was diagnosed with stage III pancreatic cancer. I had Whipple surgery and moved right into chemotherapy and then radiation. I was lucky with my reaction to most of it. The worst reaction was overwhelming fatigue. I was blessed with a nurturing husband who took care of everything while I watched movies on the laptop in bed. He shaved my head as I sported a ‘baldie’ and I posted it on Facebook. The support of family, friends, and literally hundreds of people online who responded with prayers helped pull me through. My medical care was incredible, and I was so grateful to have found them online the way I did. My son participated in PurpleStride last summer and I promised him I WOULD be there to walk with him next year.

I never asked "why me?" I assumed "why not me?" I wouldn’t wish this on anyone else, but I have a naturally optimistic attitude. Accepting and yet fighting - does that make sense? I was going to fight as hard as I could, at the same time accepting that it might be for naught. One of the meditations I was listening to ended by saying that I was safe - and either way I was.

Calling an end to chemotherapy in June, 2013, I felt it was time to ramp up my immune system. In the past year I’ve had three completely clean scans and normal blood work. The last scan gave me a huge scare when a lesion was spotted on my liver but that turned out to be scar tissue. Still clean. Each scan will be a trial, but I feel great.

I participated in my first ever 5k this month. I was thrilled to be able to give back at PurpleStride in Washington, DC. It was an amazing event and that’s me in the white t-shirt in the middle - ‘Survivor’.

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