I want to invent a new word. As the word “survivor” means “one who lives through an affliction”, my new word would mean “one who thrives after an affliction”. I’ll let you know when I come up with it.
I have lived with pancreatic cancer for a long time. I say this because by the time of diagnosis I found that I had been living with these asymptomatic, slow growing tumors for many years.
I have neuroendocrine (islet cell) pancreatic cancer that has metastasized to my liver. After my original diagnosis in February of 2008, I slowly comprised a team of skilled medical folks including my surgeon, general practitioner, oncologist, interventional radiologist and multiple others whom I turned to for for consults and second opinions. I also consulted a holistic doctor in my area.
As many others have done, I lived through an endoscopic biopsy, ultrasounds, CT scans, MRIs, octreotide scans, surgery and danced the “dark waltz” with multiple chemotherapies. My surgery was called a distal pancreatectomy; this surgery removed the portion of my pancreas with the original tumor, my spleen and my gall bladder. Oh the fun this all represented; perhaps a tale for another time!
Post-surgically, I had five rounds of chemoembolization which involved a catheter being inserted through the artery in my groin to get the chemotherapy as close to the liver tumors and their blood supply as possible. Chemoembolization is a one day procedure performed in the hospital. I now take a monthly injection of Sandostatin, pancreatic enzyme pills for digestion, and insulin.
I have kept this account of my experience with pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer factual and brief to give you a sense of what is possible and fodder for further inquiry should you be in need. This is the part that smacks of struggle, right? Now for the good news.
I have been supported in unbelievable ways by my wife, family and friends and learned many lessons of love and friendship. My workout group at the local “Y” made a video of our spin class with participants sporting “I love Garry” shirts while we listened to many of my favorite tunes. I have received fresh foods by the box, books, massage gift certificates, music, offers to mow my lawn, cards, art lessons, letters, emails and phone calls. In other words, I have received support in abundance by which I have been humbled.
I will end with this before your eyes glaze over. I am back training for a triathlon, slowly but surely, and I will succeed in this effort. I have seen my last child graduate from college, spent priceless time with family and friends and spent a portion of each day since diagnosis appreciating my 62 years of life and all of my blessings. I am a realist about neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer being a facet of my life, but it is far from all that I am and I refuse to let this be my defining characteristic.