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“You have two months to live. Go home and get your things in order.” Those were the words I heard in July 2001. Just days before, I had walked 18 holes in a golf tournament and that evening I thought I might have food poisoning. After a few days, I still didn’t feel any better. A friend told me that my eyes looked yellow, so I went to the doctor. I soon heard the word “CANCER”—not just cancer—but stage IV pancreatic cancer with metastasis to my liver. My first thought was, “OK, let’s get it fixed.” But my doctors replied, “You don’t understand, it is inoperable and incurable.” That’s when I was told I had just two months to live.
To relieve my pain and jaundice, a tube was inserted into my side to drain backed-up bile. They put a leg bag on me and said I would live with that for the rest of my life. The doctor told me to go home and get my affairs in order.
My family and I decided that I needed a second opinion. My sister Pam and my caregiver Jana were busy searching the Internet and making phone calls, trying to find some place that would offer hope. That’s when my younger sister Beth called and told me that her in-laws had a friend who had been treated for pancreatic cancer at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) and that they had saved his life. Pam got on the phone right away and called CTCA’s 800-number and talked to an Oncology Information Specialist. They seemed to know exactly what we were going through, were very informative and answered all of our questions. I was scheduled for an appointment within the week. I needed to get help as soon as possible as I was losing weight, could not eat and I was in terrible pain. Not knowing I was full of infection from the insertion of the biliary tube, I was able to get some pain medication. Pam and Jana put me in a wheelchair and accompanied me on a plane to the CTCA in Zion, Illinois. The first thing I remember was entering the lobby of CTCA and seeing the tree of survivors. I said I’m going to get my name on that tree!
CTCA began treating me right away for my infection, got my pain under control and confirmed the diagnosis. I could not believe how fast they were able to do all the tests. They did more in one day at CTCA than my hospital back home did in a week. When they scheduled me for an X-ray at 10 a.m., I had my X-ray at 10 a.m. I thought, WOW, these people know what they are doing.
After three days of tests, I asked Dr. Mellijor how long I had to live. He said he could not give me my “expiration date” …that date was “in greater hands than his.” It was at that moment that I realized someone had offered me HOPE! If I was willing to fight, they would fight with me.
The doctors then explained a very aggressive treatment plan, which began immediately and consisted of five days of FUDR leucovorin with one day of intra-arterial mitomycin platinum. I spent 26 days in the hospital fighting an infection in my body, along with a collapsed lung. During my stay in the hospital, I felt like I was surrounded by friends and people who really cared and who gave me hope. Everyone was so pleasant, from the person who cleaned my room to all the nurses, doctors, kitchen staff—everyone.
Each morning at 10, the group of CTCA healthcare professionals would come into my room to see me. By doing this, they could all hear at the same time how I felt and could answer any questions I had for them. Also, as soon as I arrived at CTCA, they started me on a regimen of vitamins that I continue to take to this day. I don’t know if it was the vitamins or my prayers, but I never lost the hair on my head even with all the chemotherapy. Each time they did tests, it showed that the tumors had shrunk.
After five months, my platelets were too low to continue with the original treatment, so we went to plan B. I then started on a regimen of oral chemo, and within months, the tumor could not be seen at all on the scans. I have been off chemo since November 2002.
At present, I take Prilosec once a day and the vitamins that were recommended to me by Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). I enjoy spending my time working full time, riding my horses, camping, golfing, traveling, and being with my friends and family. Through the excellent care that I received at CTCA and the constant love, support and prayers from my family and friends, I have stayed positive and set goals for myself. I have talked to numerous patients and many of them say, “I wish I would have found CTCA right away.”
So many hospitals treat you like a number, but at CTCA they treat you like family. I was very fortunate to have found CTCA so soon after my diagnosis. I, like most people, wanted to be treated close to home, but I truly believe if I had, I would not be here to share my story. I continue to count my blessings every day and have recently taken on the opportunity of becoming South Dakota’s Team Hope Leader for an organization called the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. I hope others that have been diagnosed with this disease and are not satisfied with what they have been told will call Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Remember there is always hope and as the song goes by Lee Ann Womack, “you have a choice to sit it out or dance”...“I Hope You Dance.”
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