By Jennifer Keller
My story began in March of 2017. I was feeling extremely exhausted at work for a 2-week period. My job was a physical in its tasks, so this was definitely a problem. I had been also experiencing a terrible gnawing feeling in my upper stomach and back for months on my drive home every evening. I thought it was just stress as my life had been full, too full for many years and I felt unbelievably overwhelmed. Then one of the mornings I noticed my urine was dark. I was never a good water drinker so I immediately began drinking more water that day but it didn’t change. I could also see myself turning slightly yellow and I knew that’s never a good sign. I went to Urgent Care and was sent for labs and a CT Scan. Before I could even get to the Radiology department the results of my bloodwork from the Kaiser website were dinging one-after-another on my phone. I quickly viewed my results and could see something was very wrong- all my numbers were very elevated. The CT scan showed what was called a double-duct sign and I was very kindly and gently told that I needed further testing. The radiologist and my doctor were almost certain it was pancreatic cancer because the double-duct sign is typically indicative of cancer at the head of the pancreas.
Within a few days I had an ERCP to place a stent in my duct relieving the buildup of bile and to hopefully confirm a tumor. The stent was a success and within days I felt better. However, they could not locate a tumor. I met with the surgeon to discuss surgery to remove what they could not confirm was even there. I was terrified and had decided I did not want surgery or treatment. This is something I had always promised myself. If I should someday be diagnosed with one of the worst cancers, I would prefer no treatment and to live my days out feeling as normal as possible rather than being ill from treatment and possibly never be the same person after a huge surgery. Therefore, the thought of the Whipple was horrifying to me. I began to google like many of us do for days on end. I read all I needed to know about it to the point where I could barely stand to see or hear the word “Whipple”. I was truly terrified and trying to accept this new reality at 52 years old. I simply wanted nothing to do with a surgery that I felt was replumbing all my insides. It sounded like a recipe for a disaster. To be honest I was also nervous because when I read about so many others with my diagnosis, they were having their surgery in specialty hospitals. I could not afford to go to some top cancer hospital. I was born at Kaiser and was a member ever since the beginning of me. If I would require surgery/cancer treatment, it would be at Kaiser.
As they say, fast forward to just 2 days before the scheduled surgery of which the surgeon was not sure I would show up for. I had an EUS, another procedure somewhat similar to the ERCP. They found the tumor and were able to biopsy it and it tested positive for adenocarcinoma. The surgeon and my family
gently helped me to see that the Whipple was the best choice for me….and it was!
My surgery was May 4th 2017 and I truly never imagined I would still be here now almost 4 years later. I feel unbelievably lucky. So lucky that I feel guilty because I know that so many others have not been as blessed as I have. There isn’t not a morning or a day that I don’t think about my new reality. It doesn’t ever leave you, but you slowly get used to it and find happiness and gratitude for an extension of your life. I sure wish this never happened to me but it has. I actually live across the street from Kaiser and walked to my own Whipple- kind of unusual but oddly special to me. Every time I walk or drive by that place, I feel so grateful to all of my family and the doctors there for giving me this second chance at life.
Every November, during Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, I’m reminded thankfully that there is more. Hopefully more awareness and more support in this world to find a cure for this insidious cancer that has affected and taken so many lives and loved ones.
Stories from families & friends touched by pancreatic cancer often show the resilience and courage of the human spirit. Loved ones dedicate their time and effort every day to fight for a cancer-free future and every journey helps pave the way to a cure. Share your story, make a dedication and help raise awareness today.