Pancreas Cancer Web

HARRY (1927-1998)

Harry and I were together 24 years and married nearly 18. Through the years, he had few health problems but had breast cancer and a mastectomy 11/95. He recovered with no complications or signs of its return. In mid-1997, Harry had a total intestinal blockage which required surgery and a colostomy. The docs thought he had colon cancer. But again he dodged a bullet--no cancer--and had a second surgery (10/97) to reverse the colostomy. While the second surgery really took Harry down, he seemed to be recovering fairly well. Even so, I had a strong feeling he was not going to be with me the end of 1998. By late May, Harry started exhibiting signs of pc which seem to mimic signs of the flu. After about 10 days of diarrhea that seemed to get worse, he went to the doctor who ran blood tests showing liver functions were askew. She ordered another blood test which showed things were worse. The doc was very concerned and thought Harry had hepatitis and ordered a blood test for me. When I showed no signs of hepatitis, she ordered him ultrasound which showed a possible pancreatic mass with suspicion of an invasive neoplasm to the liver. A subsequent x-ray contradicted this finding. An ERCP showed Harry had a tumor in the liver and the only determination needed was whether it was relocated breast cancer or pc. By mid-July, we had the definitive diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and eventually had surgery (Whipple) scheduled for the beginning of September. Our surgeon was really great but called me after an hour or so into surgery. They found Harry's pc had metastasized to the liver and ended up doing bypasses. He then spent four weeks in the hospital because of impaired peristalsis and vomitting. Harry never really recovered from the surgery and suffered a small stroke five weeks later. Before the surgery, we discussed treatment options with our oncologist and decided quality of life was more important than quantity. No radiation or chemo therapy. Hindsight is 20-20, though, and I believe we would not have opted for the surgery, as it took away time from us to make new memories. Harry suffered an amount of pain which was controlled by morphine and transdermal patches. Constipation became problematic, as did vomitting and loss of appetite. Harry and I, through the years, had discussed the right to early termination when one was terminally ill and believed we have the right to request and receive help. Unfortunately, we had an onc and hospice program which wouldn't give any help or information. For me, this is a major issue as Harry's decision was undermined. Other than this, we were extremely satisfied with the care Harry received and would do more research on early termination. When a family goes into a diagnosis as deadly as pc, emotions run high and nerves are on edge. It seemed that we squabbled a bit more but also agreed this didn't mean we loved each other less or were angry--just that we were scared. Talking about this is so important because, if arguing is ignored and taken personally, the opportunity for heart-felt communication is lost. I did so much of the work with Harry by myself and occasionally felt angry that his daughter wasn't involved. Through the years, their relationship was on again, off again. Only after Harry's stroke did she come over daily. I think, too, seeing him sick and knowing he was dying was extremely difficult for her. In the last three weeks of his life, Harry and his daughter became closer than they had been in all the years before. This was a true gift to both of them. This whole experience has been a life-changing event and, now, I'm trying to reinvent my life as a woman alone. So difficult, as I try to find my place in the world without my husband. Would I do anything differently? Not really. If I could have taken away the pc, yes. If I could have helped Harry terminate early, yes. But I was able to keep Harry home in a place he loved to be and with family and friends was wonderful. Harry and I had a 21-year age difference and I often wonder how people of the same age can do the work involved with a terminally ill person. To Harry, forever in my heart, your wife.

Posted 01/06/1999 01:02 pm by Pam K
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