Faith and Friendships
I found out I had pancreatic cancer after suffering from jaundice. At first, the doctor thought it was caused by my gallbladder, and operated to remove it. Two weeks after the surgery, I went in to have the stent removed from my bile duct. During this procedure, the doctor made a startling discovery—the bile duct was closed, due to a 1.8 cm pancreatic tumor that was pressing on it. The next day, I went back to have it biopsied.
The official diagnosis came in October 2014: pancreatic adenocarcinoma at the age of 51. For the better part of that year, I had been misdiagnosed, even undergoing two ultrasounds and two scans that failed to detect the tumor.
Prior to learning I had pancreatic cancer, I experienced a range of symptoms—weight loss, fatigue and loss of energy. While I did have a family history of pancreatic cancer on my paternal side, I was surprised to learn that my first cousin on my father’s side underwent the Whipple procedure as well.
Landing on a Successful Treatment Plan
After my wife and I learned the news, she immediately started researching my options and began searching for a reputable hospital and surgeon. One doctor’s name kept coming up in her search, and we decided to see him in Baltimore.
My treatment plan included a successful Whipple procedure and FOLFIRINOX and radiation afterwards. I was told I was Stage IIB, as 3 of 23 lymph nodes were affected. Four years after the ordeal, my scans continued to show no evidence of disease and my CA 19-9 levels are currently at 14.
Today, the only thing I take is an enzyme with my meals to help with digestion. For the most part, I have resumed my daily life. I’ve modified my diet to maintain my weight and typically eat six meals a day, which includes a lot of buffets.
I was a man of strong faith prior to my diagnosis and that helped me cope with what I was facing. Still, learning I had pancreatic cancer taught me many life lessons, one of which was to live for each and every day. I am extremely blessed to be here and am grateful to have had a wonderful caregiver in my wife who fought just as hard for my survival as I did.
Pancreatic cancer also brought me my biggest blessing, which has been all of the people who came into my life as a result of my diagnosis. The first pancreatic cancer survivor I met was Paul, and I was lucky enough to become great friends with him and his family who I still visit in Ohio. Unfortunately, Paul’s cancer returned, and I am sad to say he didn’t make it. His wife wanted me to have a lighter that he carried with him every day, even though he didn’t smoke. A day hasn’t passed that I haven’t had that lighter in my pocket.
Advocate for Yourself
I would advise any newly diagnosed patient to be proactive upon hearing the news, do your research and be your own advocate. My positive attitude, supportive wife and incredible team of doctors are what helped me get through this diagnosis and treatment.