That’s the most frequently asked question I hear. For good reason - there’s no early detection alert system available. And since the pancreas is a well-hidden organ within the body, tumors growing in it stay well-hidden too.
When it's discovered, it’s usually too late to do much to stop the disease. I don’t like exploring the statistics because the numbers are terrifying for the prognosis of Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Basically only about 20% live past 1 year. Less than 3% live 5 years. As I approached the anniversary of my 2nd year since diagnosis, I’m joining the 6% of people who are gifted this time. Terrifying!
I focus on the fact that while the incidence of pancreatic cancer is increasing, the survival rate is also increasing. The five-year rate today is based on people who were diagnosed 5 years ago. I’m part of the group of more recently diagnosed people who together are marching towards creating a higher survival rate.
My discovery story: As our lives are played out in a series of stories, my story is both similar and unique to most cancer patients.
I’m not the profile of a person who would develop the disease: smoking, overweight, diabetes, male and African American. None of these apply to me.
I did not have any of the usual symptoms: Pain (usually in the abdomen or back), weight loss, jaundice, nausea, pancreatitis or recent-onset diabetes.
I did have vague symptoms that I thought were caused by an ongoing flu: loss of appetite, change in stool, tiredness. I also had a ball-bearing size lump in a gland near my collar bone that I mentioned to three different doctors in the year prior to diagnosis. All said to alert them if it changed. It did.
My discovery gift was that I developed a 24-hour fever just days before Thanksgiving in 2017. It went away and I was fine. Two weeks later it came back so I decided to seek medical care for this vague, never-ending flu-like crud. I mentioned to the Nurse Practitioner that I just hadn’t felt right for awhile and my ball-bearing lump had grown a twin.
I could tell something didn’t sit right with her. She seemed to suspect something was wrong. She kept asking and asking if my stomach hurt. I kept answering no…. is it supposed to hurt?? When she left the room to consult, I could feel the start of quiet tears; I knew something was wrong.
And so the testing began - fast!
An ultrasound discovered the blocked bile duct causing the fevers, lack of appetite and changes in stools. A blocked bile duct is not uncommon with pancreatic cancer. A ct scan suggested a tumor was hiding in my pancreas. An x-ray revealed a field of small tumors covering my lungs. It wasn’t good news and it had spread.
So, my journey had begun. I was terrified and overwhelmed as it began. Today, frequently I am still terrified and overwhelmed. But, I’m still here. And for that, I am grateful. I appreciate everyone who has stepped into this journey with me. And I am especially grateful to the nurse practitioner who really listened and believed me. Every day I make a plan for tomorrow and I expect to be here for it. And by the grace of God, so far, I have been.
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To infinity and beyond 🚀️