In November, 2002, I became sick while on a weekend trip with my husband, and was admitted to the hospital through the ER on Saturday. I was jaundiced and had a severe attack of pancreatitis (my first). The following Wednesday, I received a diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer, which was discovered by ERCP. I was sent directly to the Medical University of South Carolina that day to meet Dr. David Adams, who performed my whipple surgery on December 12, 2002. He said he couldn't assure me of anything at that point (even that he could complete the surgery). He couldn't tell how large the tumor was, or whether there was spread. We knew how serious PC was as my Father-in-law died from the disease in 1985. It was my second cancer, having been successully treated for Breast Cancer after diagnosis in January 1999.
The day after the meeting with Dr. Adams was Thanksgiving, and began my 'Fourteen Good Days' before surgery. I was 54 years old. Looking around the table that Thanksgiving, I realized anew just how much I had to be thankful for, including my husband of 30+ years, 2 children and their spouses, two precious grandchildren, and five wonderful brothers, sisters and their spouses. God had given me many blessings. Life had (and has) been good. I couldn't be sad or ask 'why me?', but I also wasn't going to just give up.
Margaret with grandsons
Jacob and Cody
Our plans for the 'Fourteen Good Days' included visits to family and friends, a 'spa day,' a visit with my pastor, our grandson's rushed christening, and a memorable weekend trip to enjoy an Andrea Bocceli concert. I also taught my husband to do on-line banking, pay the bills, updated my will, and closed out some things at work in case I would be away for a while. Those days turned in to ones of celebration of life...not despair of cancer. As long as the sun came up for me the next day, I decided I would remain positive and fight the disease.
Following successful whipple surgery that lasted a little less than three hours, Dr. Adams informed my family that he would love to begin every day that way. My cancer (adenocarcinoma) was less than 3 cm and was actually Ampula of Vater origin that had grown to the mouth of the pancreas. I think that made it stage two, but the margins were clear and there was no spread. It was very near major nerves, which was the only thing that concerned the doctor. My recovery from surgery was uncomplicated, and I left the hospital in only seven days, fulfilling my goal of being home by Christmas to cuddle the babies.
The support of my husband, family and friends was enormously important during the days before and after my surgery, and during treatment. They were my cheerleaders and my personal heroes. If you are a caregiver reading this, know that you are soooo important to us!
I was able to return to work part time from home two weeks after surgery and was back in the office part time in four weeks. Within a few months, following chemo (oral xeloda) and radiation, my health returned to pre-whipple status. In the (almost) two and 1/2 years since surgery, I have had only minimal problems. The surgery did not cause me to have problems with sugar, and I can eat most anything I want. I guess the 'good' thing that came from this, however, is that I don't care very much for chocolate any more! Currently I run/walk three miles a day and am in the best physical shape of my adult life (minus a few parts!).
This year, we will experience the miracle of the third grandchild's birth. Last September, I was thrilled to accompany the oldest to his first day in first grade. This summer, our last niece will walk down the aisle...and I plan to be there smiling or crying, but happy! Life goes on as it should.
In 2004, my husband and I relocated to the Washington DC area, and I transferred my follow up treatments to Johns Hopkins from Columbia SC. I met with Dr. Dan Leheru, had my CT there in December, and my mammogram there recently. I was given a 'clean bill' for a few more months. I continue to have CT scans every six months. Like most people dealing with this, I get a bit antsy as the time comes to go in for the tests. So far, so good!
Cancer runs 'rampant' in my maternal family, and one of my uncles died of pancreatic cancer. My mother died of ovarian cancer, her other brother of colon cancer, and two of my first cousins also died of ovarian cancer. One sister and four first cousins have had breast cancer. We're a regular genetics study!
The 'bottom line' is that I have seen cancer up close and personal for many years. I know it isn't pretty and that it causes a lot of suffering; and that sometimes the treatment is as debilitating as the disease...but I also know that there is always hope. I've experienced miracles of healing twice. If (or when) I have to deal with cancer again, I will joyfully thank God for every day that I wake up until the day I don't.
I wish you all peace and good days.