Pancreas Cancer Web


My name is Melissa and I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in May, 1997. I am now 39 years old, have a husband, two wonderful sons (Ben is 10 and Josh is 8). My mom lives with us most of the time to help out with daily life when I'm not able to do things. I was a second year law student (OK, an old law student!) when life fell apart. I dropped out of law school, needless to say and have focused on healing and living for the past 2 1/2 years. Here's what happened: I had been jaundiced for about 3 weeks and had 3 different stents put in to unblock the common bile duct. Each stent failed and my gastro specialist decided to do surgery. He mentioned that there might be "some little tumor" causing the problem and that he'd just "go in and take it out" and that there was the possibility of doing a whipple. My husband and I knew nothing about a whipple and I was in such a desparate state that we simply went with whatever he said. I saw two different gastro docs (same practice) and they both agreed that surgery was required. Once in the operating room, the surgeon quickly found a 4.5cm tumor on my pancreas with multiple mets in my liver, the largest of which was 5cm. He did a bilary bypass to resolve the jaundice, sewed me up, and sighed heavily. I was 36 years old. I was told that I had about 3 months and sent to an oncologist. My first chemo was Gemzar. Unfortunately, I was so weakened by the jaundice and the surgery (opened from stem to stern) that I spent the next 8 weeks in the hospital, fed by IV (TPN) and fighting off various infections. My white counts were very low and the Gemzar was of no help as the cancer continued to multiply in my liver. My oncologist (in private practice) referred me to Georgetown Univeristy (I live nearby Wash DC in Northern Virgini). There I met Dr. John L. Marshall. I was very weak and assumed the end was near. The first thing Dr. Marshall did was give me hope. He shook my hand and said, "First of all, you are not going to die right away." My husband and I were shocked and thrilled! He tried a clinical trial using an enzyme called Onconase. It failed. Then we started another trial using a triple dose of 5FU/Lukavorin followed by a "resuce" drug whose purpose was to save me from the high dose of 5FU. At this time, I also started seeing a Chinese doctor who administered acupuncture and perscribed Chinese herbs to help me tolerate the chemo by controlling nausea and pain and by stimulating my immune system and giving me extra energy. After a year of using the high dose of chemo and the Chinese Traditional Medicine, my 4.5cm primary tumor disappeared from the CAT scan and my multiple mets in the liver were down to 4, the largest of which was 1.8cm. It was a difficult year as the "rescue" drug was 12 large pills taked every 8 hours after 8 times after the high dose of 5FU/Lukavorin. My white counts were suffering even with Nueprogen shots so we decided to switch to Xeloda as a chemo agent. Xeloda is a pill form of 5FU that is activated in the body at the tumor site. This means that it is not systemically administered and the side effects are much less. I have fatigue and occassional nausea but that's about it for side effects. My hair is thick and I'm back in action as Den Mom, Soccer Mom and lego-building, book reading, car-pooling Mom. When I was first diagnosed, I decided that it would take a three-pronged approach to survive: I would physically do all that was possible, chemo, radiation (I had 6 weeks on my liver in Nov/Dec 1999), and Chinese herbs, diet (low fat), acupuncture, and anything else available. I emotionally sought out help from a psychotherapist for anxiety and depression that is naturall and for marital problems that had to be resolved after 12 years of marriage. I spiritually reconnected with God, joined a synagogue and enrolled my kids in religious school to give them a "touch stone" for dealing with life's sticky issues, and started meditating and using visualization. I believe that it is the COMBINATION of all of these things that have kept me alive this long. My goal is to continue to monitor all three aspects of my recovery. For instance, I continue to get acupuncture twice a week and drink Chinese herbs daily. My prayer life is good and I feel like I can confide and depend on God for support -- emotionally and physically. I get help from time to time from a therapist when depression and other problems reoccur -- instead of burying problems I want to address them before they affect my mind and body. My message is one of hope. There is always hope. If the survival rate is 5%, then I want to one of the people with names and faces that make up that 5%. I wish everyone who must face this disease luck and life.

Posted 01/12/2000 09:07 am by Melissa
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