Her first sign of a problem was in 1997 with rapid weight loss and an extremely low platelet count. These symptoms eventually prompted enough tests to find the tumor on the tail of her pancreas. Her surgeon removed her spleen, along with 40% of her pancreas. The biopsy results initially reported her tumor as benign. A second opinion reported 'low grade malignancy'. She did not have any follow-up chemo or radiation.
Three years later, a chest x-ray detected three tumors in her lungs. Her oncologist discouraged us from pursuing surgery, and even commented that we would 'never find anyone to operate on her lungs for a pancreatic tumor'. He began treating her with Gemzar instead, which was not only ineffective, but depleted my mother emotionally and physically in every possible way. Meanwhile, we searched for alternatives. My mother was otherwise very healthy, and had never smoked. Her lung specialist referred us to a remarkable thoracic surgeon at Vanderbilt Hospital who felt very strongly that the tumors should be resected. He was very encouraging to my mother about the surgery as well as her chances for survival. My mother regained her spirit, and opted for the surgery. Her tumors were successfully removed in two back-to-back surgeries in late 2000 and early 2001. The biopsies matched the pancreatic tumor from 1997. This was the first time we heard the diagnosis 'mucinous cystadenocarcinoma'.
In the Fall of 2002, my mother began having chronic coughing and choking problems. Tests eventually revealed tumors in lymph nodes surrounding her windpipe as well as in her bones (spine, lower back, and sacrum). In her case, these were areas which were already very weak from osteoarthritis. Since surgery was not an option this time, she began radiation treatments on the windpipe area. One round of radiation (15 treatments) severely damaged her esophagus. She could not swallow any food or drink, and experienced rapid weight loss. After spending two weeks in the hospital over the holidays, she regained her weight and was sent home with a feeding tube.
Over the next five months, my three sisters and I cared for our mother at home and watched her slowly slipping away from us as the cancer spread throughout her body. Her pain increased day by day, and she was never able to eat through her mouth again. A combination of pain patches and morphine drops helped ease her pain until Mother's Day weekend, when she woke up with excruciating pain in her bones. At the advice of her oncologist, we tried unsuccessfully for several hours to get the pain under control. At her request, we finally took her to the hospital. After three medication changes (morphine to dilaudid to demerol back to morphine) and adverse reactions to each, she finally became at ease in her final days. She passed away on May 21, 2003 at 12:25 p.m. My sister and I were holding her hands, telling her how much we loved her, and thanking her for being the best mother in the world. I wish each of you hope and strength in your battle with PC.