I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer by chance by my local internist. I had a “tummy ache” which was very unusual for me, so I had to check it out. I minimized it, but my internist said, “I know your body, I’m going to run a few tests.” I was 67 and had just finished my first sprint triathlon only 6 weeks prior. Throughout my life I had been around 10 to 30 pounds overweight but at that time I was in the best shape of my life.
My doctor called me the same day to come to his office and I was given THE News: “You have pancreatic cancer. I’ll try to get you into surgery as soon as I can.” By chance the surgery schedule was filled and I had about a week to worry and call everyone I knew who might be able to help, support and inform me about what to do. The same name came up several times: Dr. Isacoff at UCLA. I made an appointment and trusted him and what at that time was a unique protocol: a low-dose, long-term unique chemo cocktail. Since I lived in Santa Barbara, I had friends drive me to UCLA where I had a chemo infusion for at least an hour, then an appointment with Dr. Isacoff, then met my friend for lunch and was driven back to Santa Barbara. Sometimes I took the train. I had 3 weeks of varied chemo with one week off for 8 months.
People ask, “How bad was it?” It was 18 years ago and life since then has been so good that my memory fades about many of the challenges. The first few days of chemo were insignificant, then it took hold and I felt “yucky” for about two days, came out of it for about a day, then spent two days feeling pretty good, then back for another infusion week. The fourth week without chemo seemed somewhat normal.
During the 8 months of chemo I lost my hair and I lost my appetite –that was a surprise for someone who often over-loved food. I didn’t have a taste for anything raw which surprised my salad loving self. I had a couple of serious dips when I was taken to the hospital oozing from every orifice. There were nights when I was so wired I couldn’t sleep and wrote love letters to family and friends. AND, I also went on ski trips with my family, continued to work from home, drove where I needed to go, went out to dinner, went to church and temple, celebrated holidays and just lived life. I even had an actual witch doctor who was a Harvard & Stanford trained MD. Mostly I did everything. I desperately wanted to *live* and knew that I had to do everything in MY power to support the work the doctors were doing.
My motto was “leave no stone unturned." I thought, if there is a possibility it could help, if it has helped someone else, I’ll do it! There was a monthly support group for pancreatic cancer patients and their families at the Cancer Support Center in LA. I didn’t miss a meeting and my family also went to the meetings. There was a Cancer Support week long workshop I attended with my family who called it “Cancer Camp.” I worked with a nutritionist who taught me to juice and make smoothies. I bought cancer cookbooks. I hired a weekly cook. I had a friend bring me flowers every week. I had weekly massage and acupuncture. I did daily meditation and listened to meditation and cancer healing tapes. I especially listened to healing tapes while getting chemo. Then, I joined a gym that had a Cancer Program with both information and physical exercise. I was faithful in working out as best I could three times a week. I saw a Chinese doctor and used Chinese herbs daily. I exercised and walked daily and ate healthy as much as I could. I did everything the doctor told me to do, and everything meditative and spiritual my heart and hospice* counselor suggested. Hospice was especially supportive on an emotional level.
After the 8 months of chemo, Dr. Isacoff suggested Dr. Charles Yeo as my surgeon. At that time he was at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. He is currently at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. I had a Whipple surgery in 2005 and no further treatment. As usual with the Whipple surgery there were complications that were handled appropriately by the doctor and hospital. I was there for 4 weeks. I walked the halls every day holding my pole of medicine bottles with tubes and needles going into my body.
In the lobby of the hospital there was a piano. My then-spouse said that the minute he knew I was going to be ok was when he began to play the piano and while he was playing I began to dance with the pole and dangling bottles.
A few years later, there was concern about breast cancer. I had a lumpectomy in 2007 which showed DCIS but no cancer and all subsequent exams show no cancer.
I continue to reach out and tell my story to anyone who is willing to listen. And I can only hope that my story inspires and brings hope to others. It is crucial that we raise awareness, spread information and stories. We need to provide support and more stories about survivors, to give hope to those dealing with this diagnosis. I tell everyone who is interested about my story because there IS hope and there ARE angels. I have lived to see both of my children married, and seen 3 grandchildren born and being raised. I have travelled and lived to enjoy the life and love of my family and many friends. I continue to work out either swimming, walking, or playing Pickleball nearly every day and am engaged in many civic, entertainment, cultural and religious organizations. As of now, 2022, I have been cancer-free for 18 glorious years, I can only thank heaven and all the Angels along the way.
*“Hospice” and “palliative care” have be used interchangeably. Palliative care is now the norm for symptom management when diagnosed with cancer. Learn more about palliative care