My name is Laura Hain and I am the daughter of a 12 year cancer survivor.  This is the story of my mother, Helen, through my eyes, when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on December 27, 2000.  She was given only five months to live.  We were told that only 5% of people survive after the initial diagnosis.

This was the most devastating news our family could hear.  This was my senior year in high school in Clinton, New Jersey and I couldn’t be more unclear of my future without a mother.  Was she going to be there for my 18th birthday, my graduation in June or my wedding some day?  When you are 17 and your world comes crashing down around you and your family, you can’t really concentrate on your high school career or your life.  But as a family, we were determined to fight this battle.

The three of us went to the medical center and asked what our options were.  Mom’s gastroenterologist and oncologist gave us several options which included an extensive chemotherapy and radiation treatment regimen and some surgeries to remove the tumor.  Her other option was to have an experimental and dangerous (at that time) surgery called the Whipple.  Basically, it was described to us as the removal of the “head” or the wide part of the pancreas next to the first part of the small intestine (duodenum).  It also involved the removal of the duodenum, a portion of the common bile duct, gallbladder, and maybe part of the stomach.  So, with God’s grace and constant prayer of our church family, and our family and friends, we decided to go with the Whipple.

On January 17, 2001, my mom had the surgery.  However, there were complications.  The cancer had spread throughout the entire pancreas and spleen and they only found this out during the surgery.  The surgeon removed my mom’s entire pancreas, spleen, gallbladder, and duodenum.  The surgery lasted 15 hours.  There was also the possibility that the cancer had spread, as some spots were seen on her liver, but they doctor said that chemotherapy and radiation would ultimately make them disappear.  My mother went through 2001 going through chemotherapy and radiation.  She did make it to my 18th birthday and graduation with the help of teachers and families from my school and church.  They sent meal after meal to my house and brought my mother to the doctor when my dad couldn’t.  Ultimately, my father lost his job (“forced into early-retirement”) and was able to stay home with my mom.  Things were stable around the house and I went off to college in Vermont.

My parents decided to make a bold move, literally, and sell the house in New Jersey to move to Vermont.  On June 14, 2002, my parents closed on the house in New Jersey and started building a house in Vermont while mom was still going through chemotherapy.  Mom’s oncologist recommended his teacher from college, a respected oncologist in the medical community, in Bennington, Vermont.  This oncologist would be my mother’s second hero in this nasty battle of fighting cancer.

My mother continued her chemotherapy and radiation and was eventually thrown into remission in 2003.  We were so happy and relieved that we had fought and won this battle.  Along with my mother’s parents passing away during all of this, we stuck together.  But the battle wasn’t over.  In October 2004, towards the end of my first semester of my senior year of college, my mother was diagnosed with uterine cancer.  My mother didn’t want to let this beat her.  So on November 17, 2004, my mother had a complete hysterectomy and was put back on chemotherapy and radiation.  For several months, my mother was on chemotherapy and radiation and was in remission just after my college graduation.  We are very grateful for all the support from friends and family and from all of the doctors that got my mother through this.

On September 13, 2009, my mother’s oncologist in Vermont passed away from pancreatic cancer.  My mother was devastated and I am sure even though she would never admit it, she felt guilty as her health was ultimately HIS first priority before his own.  He was an amazing man and I owe him, and all the doctors and nurses in New Jersey, and Vermont my (our) gratitude and love for keeping my mother alive and well.  Today, December 10, 2013, my mother celebrated her 70th birthday as an insulin dependent, strong cancer survivor and cancer free woman for eight years.  She is a true fighter and an inspiration to everyone and to me.  My mother and father fought to adopt my brother and me from Bogota, Colombia when we were younger and they fought this battle of cancer twice, and I’m so proud of both of them.  We are a team from the beginning to the end and I hope this story inspires others to fight too!

Contact a PanCAN Patient Services Case Manager
If you have any questions about pancreatic cancer, contact PanCAN Patient Services for free, personalized and in-depth disease information and resources.