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Luckily my doctor focused more on the weight loss and guarding when he pushed on my abdomen. He immediately scheduled a CT scan which was performed on 19 Mar. Four hours after the scan, I got a call telling me I have a mass in my pancreas. I was referred to a gastroenterologist the next day. We reviewed the CT report which stated the mass was about 19 mm in diameter with poorly defined margins. I was told this is promising and it could most likely be removed with an endoscope.
To confirm the diagnosis, I was scheduled for an MRCP and they drew more blood for additional testing. On Friday, 23 Mar, I got a call telling me I needed to see a surgeon and they would be calling with an appointment. Within the hour I got a call telling me to be in the surgeon's office at 11:00 on Monday, 26 Mar. The PA came in and reviewed my charts and then began describing the Whipple procedure. I was somewhat shocked because I had already researched the procedure and knew this was suddenly more serious than the original diagnosis. My wife and I asked why we were now discussing a major surgery and she realized nobody had told us this was now a discussion about pancreatic cancer. The surgeon eventually came in and told us he was 98% certain I have pancreatic cancer and the Whipple procedure is the most effective course of action.
In the course of 8 days, they discovered the mass and had me scheduled for surgery. Unfortunately there are only a few surgeons in Utah who specialize in this procedure and the one I was talking to already had me on the schedule for 13 April. It would happen sooner but he was leaving on a vacation a couple days later. I tried to find another surgeon who could do it sooner but they are all booked or require a biopsy before they will consider surgery. The surgeon I'm working with told me there is no value in doing a biopsy and no reason to put me through another procedure when he knows what he'll find.
It probably goes without saying but the last 2 weeks have been an emotional roller coaster. I still have to tell our kids but I'm struggling with that because I can't give them anything meaningful about the long term prognosis. There are so many opinions and variables affecting the mortality rates associated with pancreatic cancer, it's difficult to determine what's ahead.
I'd really like to be around another 20 - 25 years to see my grandkids grow up. I don't know if that will happen but hearing about a 14 year survivor after the Whipple Procedure certainly gives me more hope than anything else I've been able to find.
If this wasn't enough to deal with, I should mention my wife, at 47 years old, beat colorectal cancer after being diagnosed in July of last year. After months of radiation and chemo and the side effects that come with them, she had a PET scan on 25 Jan showing she is cancer free. Although she still faces several months of recovery to overcome the damage from the radiation and chemo but we thought we would soon be back to our somewhat normal life. I just turned 55 and have been relatively healthy all of my adult life. I've never smoked, rarely drink alcohol, and have been trying to stay fit enough to continue pursuing our passion for traveling and scuba diving. I grew up in the deep south so I do enjoy my meat and potatoes as well as lots of fried food. As far as I know there is no history of pancreatic cancer in my family but my father successfully beat colon cancer about 6 years ago and is now fighting bladder cancer. I assume there's some correlation there but still shocked to be dealing with this.
All my best for continued success and thank you again for providing me at least some hope. I desperately needed something positive to hold onto.
Regards, James Cooper
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