Tom was seated on the sofa as I sat perched on the paper-covered table. The 30 something, very sweet, Sports Medicine Doctor shared my report displayed on the large computer screen. “There is a mass in your pancreas,” she said very cautiously not wanting our eyes to meet. Tom leapt from the sofa to my side on the table as we both tried to absorb the words. My first reaction…”Can you live without a pancreas?, recalling Pancreatic Cancer to be the most deadly form of cancer. “Yes, you can today, with the proper medication.” She continued to relay the medical facts that had been compiled in the short 24 hours since I had met with her. She read the blood test results showing elevated pancreatic enzymes, “…..Lipase, Serum 661, desired level should be between 7 and 60.” “I have scheduled an appointment for tomorrow with a general surgeon who specializes in this area,” she said. We clung in disbelief holding each other as the doctor wept with us. We prayed to God on the way home that He would give us the strength to weather this storm. We gathered our immediate family and told them everything we knew.
I loved to work out. Well, I longed to be in shape. Menopause and gravity had added about 30 pounds to my medium frame over the years. It seemed like each decade added 10 pounds. So, this kept me walking in the mornings, biking and being active. When my best friend’s daughter was planning her wedding we even went to a personal trainer. However, the impact on my 60 year old bones was too much. I began to suffer extreme knee pain. After a visit to an orthopedic surgeon he recommended he repair a meniscal tear. The surgery was performed January 15th. He kept me off my knee for 6 weeks. Once the knee was healed he released me to normal physical activities. Excited to be back in the gym, the pain returned. I was popping 800 mg ibuprofen twice a day to control the pain. Never having taken any type of pain control, I was reluctant to continue, but the pain was significant. I had read the side effects and wondered about the effect on my liver and kidneys. A few months later I stopped the meds.
The pain continued and I felt sick to my stomach most of the time. I suppressed the urge to throw up. All of a sudden I noticed I had lost weight without really trying. I was avoiding eating and when I did eat it was a small portion. I couldn’t even drink wine! Something must be wrong.
One day I noticed my urine seemed extremely dark. I had started to itch. My body was covered with small red scabs where I had scratched my skin raw. In my mind I felt it was related to the medications and the nausea was caused by the pain. It was time to go to the doctor to find out was was going on.
Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville is located 15 minutes from our home. A dear friend suggested I make an appointment at the Primary Care facility. Mayo is approved by our insurance and they certainly have a wonderful reputation. Monday morning I called for an appointment. After explaining my symptoms, the nurse suggested I see the sports medicine doctor and she happened to be available that afternoon. God was once again behind all of this!
When I arrived for the appointment I explained everything to the doctor. She decided to have blood work and a stool and urine sample. I was escorted into the lab where the samples were drawn. The next morning the nurse called to tell me I needed to come in for a sonogram that afternoon. What could be happening?
As the tech lathered my stomach with gel and guided the probe while watching the monitor intently, I noticed her focusing on one area. She was marking the spot with a red arrow drawing a line from one end to the other. A measurement? I asked her what that was. She began to probe different areas and showed me my kidneys, liver and pancreas. I asked her about the arrows. She said the Radiologist would review the scan and report to my doctor the results. I knew that would be her canned response, but I wanted her to say something more definitive. I sensed something was not right.
We were very familiar with this disease. When Tom and I first met, he lived with his aunt and uncle directly across the street from me. Shortly after we were married, Frank was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was 36 when he died just 18 months after receiving the report. We had read the statistics and knew what we were facing.
The next few days were a flurry of consults with the surgical team, blood tests, CT scans and MRIs. The doctors held nothing back. While they shared the worst case scenario, they also encouraged us with the positives. I had no previous serious medical issues. They marveled how at 64 I was not on any prescription medications. With the exception of exercise related problems with knees and ankles, I was in very good physical condition.
We quickly realized God had provided the perfect medical team at a world renowned hospital. Our Mayo Clinic surgeon, Dr. Horatio Asbun, specializes in pancreatic surgery. He is the best in the country. His team was equally impressive. He would perform whipple surgery laparoscopically, removing my small intestine, gallbladder and the head of my pancreas where the tumor had taken hold. He told me he could do his job and remove the tumor from my pancreas. And, he believed I had the ability to do my part. He said I had a strong faith in God and a positive attitude.That was 90% of what was needed to make the surgery successful. We were all a team and we would don our armor and enter this battle together. Most importantly, he asked his surgical team to pray for me between the meeting and the surgery date. We were confident God had placed us in good hands.
We are blessed with a strong faith in God. Tom and I knew we would get thru this and there was a reason why this was happening. Tom began to attend morning mass daily. I attended with him and we advised our Church family about the diagnosis. They immediately called to action. Fr. Frank administered the anointing of the sick. We could face the outcome no matter what it was.My CHRP Sisters and my Bible Study group organized prayer vigils for the surgery date. Our amazingly close family would also use their faith to pull through and we would do it together.