On April 29th, 2014 my life changed. I was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. A friend who was a breast cancer survivor told me one day I would thank God for giving me this trial to live through. I understand what she meant, and I am thankful for the journey. I have learned so much about my faith and my friends and family who support me. And I will never ever give up my hope of beating this deadly disease. God will bring me through it...of that I am certain.
Who would have thought God would grant 8 years, 9 months and 22 days of beautiful life to a pancreatic cancer patient? Well that just goes to show you that miracles DO happen! I am so thankful and beyond blessed.
I also know how how blessed i am to have a support group that surrounds me with love, hugs and prayers every step of the way. And, that He sent me my Joseph, TommyZ and my beautiful children and family and close friends to encourage and give me a hug when I need one. There are many out there fighting this battle each day alone. (So many prayers we send for them.)
Well, our hope for success with immunotherapy has not happened. The MRI and CT scans revealed yesterday that we need to look at other options. But, praise God…I have options!
As you know, in October 2019 I decided to take a break from chemotherapy. The difficult drugs, Gemzar and Abraxane that had brought me into remission left me feeling the terrible effects of 18 months of infusions. I needed a break. So we stopped. And thankfully for three years I was able to live a full and happy life thinking I would never take chemo again.
They say “never say never.” Well, how true a statement that is! Soon I will begin the chemo infusions that my body responded to so well before. Hopefully they will do their magic once again and stop the slow and steady growth of the cells that threaten to steal my life.
So many beautiful things have happened in my life since that diagnosis. And thanks to the medical discoveries that continue I am feeling pretty good. In March we will see our oldest granddaughter walk down the aisle with the love of her life. Tommy and I will celebrate our 40th year of marriage in August! Jude, my little carrot sent from God will turn 9! Jude and the other four grandchildren born since my diagnosis run through the house almost daily bringing me such joy. And, we all manage to visit the farm regularly. How beautiful is all of that?
As I embark on a rough road ahead, I am grateful for all of you. I am grateful to have my Lord holding my hand along the way and leading me to the next decision with confidence.
Humbled by your love and prayers and grateful for the strength He provides to take the next step.
For eight years I have been working on my memoire. When I was feeling up to it, I would write never having any expectations for a book, Maybe it would be a kind of history I could share with family. Maybe it would just end up in my trash.
As time went on I felt a sense of healing when I recounted uncomfortable memories from my past. And, as I transferred my pain onto the written page I began to see even more clearly how God had been weaving my life’s story.
What once seemed like a series of very rough patches prepared me for what was to come. Much of it might be shocking. A friend who edited the book said I took my clothes off and ran naked down the street! But, the many, many wonderful people I met along the way are important pieces of this story. (You know who you are!)The pain I had endured was transformed into abundant blessing. The love I received was greater than anything I could have ever dreamed of.
Soon, this book will go to press. It will be available on Amazon. If you choose to purchase it, the proceeds will go to research to help us discover an early detection of pancreatic cancer. Maybe it will save lives. Expecting to publish late February.
More importantly, my truth will clearly reveal how having a relationship with Jesus Christ will change your life forever and give you peace and comfort as you live out your own trials and pain. If you are searching for something missing in your life, maybe this book will lead you to what I discovered.
We all have a story, a testimony that we live each and every day. We can choose how that story ends, happily ever after or not. I believe we are all woven into unique pieces of fabric if we just place our trust in the one who is walking beside us every step of the way it will float through the air toward heaven and be beautiful to behold.
We arrived Sunday to brisk temperatures excited to get the farm ready for family that would begin to arrive on Tuesday. We would enjoy our second Thanksgiving with our family in our very special place and we couldn’t wait to smell the turkey and fixings fill the house.
Since my last post I have had four infusions of immunotherapy and my MRI and scans two weeks ago were thankfully…stable! We are good until January unless another bought with pancreatitis rears it’s nasty head. One of my friends described me as a Whack-A-Mole and I couldn’t agree more.
Today, before the craziness ensues I wanted to share our gratitude to everyone and our wishes for you to have a wonderful Thanksgiving, wherever you might be. Please know that we pray for all of you and your families. We can never express how much we appreciate the cards, the words of encouragement, the visits and the well wishes and more.
Enjoy this week together and be sure to give thanks to the one who makes it all possible.
My shower was quick but I allowed the warm water to stream down slowly rinsing the suds from my hair. Just two appointments today, a routine blood workup, probably a couple of vials for Guardant for the cancer study and then the usual Complete Blood Count and Extended Metabolic/Electrolyte panel. Then consult with my oncologist Dr. Hani Babiker to discuss the results of Friday’s CT and MRI. Tommy and I should be eating breakfast by 10:30AM. Tomorrow was the big day, an Electrocardiogram and then our first meeting with Dr. Stauffer, the surgeon who would perform my “out of the box” surgery to remove my tumor and clean up some other questionable’s deep within my stomach area on August 17th, just nine days from today.
The bloodwork results came in in record time and as I reviewed the results in my portal only one value stood out….white blood cell count was 4.1. It had never been that high before. In fact, three weeks ago it was 1.2 and below the mid range. Oh well, everything else looked ok to me.
Dr. Babiker entered the room and after hello’s were exchanged he pulled his chair close to the sofa where Tommy and I sat. He told me he was sorry I had been feeling weak and tired. (Tommy had shared this information with him via text a few days before.) And, I am also sorry to tell you this is most likely the result of the spreading cancer. He referred to the CT and MRI reports as showing no reduction in the size of the tumor in my pancreas and even a slight growth of the lung tumors, but more concerning was the addition of more leisons on and near the liver.
He shared that surgery was no longer an option.
This news took both of us by complete surprise. He further explained it would be a difficult surgery that would require five to six weeks of healing for a healthy person. There was no way to know how far the cancer had spread and to endure this kind of surgery and then not have a good outcome, it just would not be wise.
He was thinking aloud as he offered options of chemotherapy and immunotherapy and even attempt to create a vaccine from my own cells to fight off the cancer. But, that would take time. I didn’t have to decide today, but I would need to decide soon.
As I write this I am filled with disappointment, but, also gratitude. As my Joseph sat beside me and tried to verbally confirm what we were both hearing the doctor say, his voice quivered. He needed to understand precisely what was happening so he could report to our children the complete and utter reality. I am thankful to have walked beside this godly man for 39 of my years on the earth.
He walked me to my car and hugged me before I got into the car. It was certainly not the news we expected today yet we both know God is in complete control. We drove directly to church and prayed, cried and laughed as we sat in the empty church we both agreed was the place we had always come to celebrate, to mourn, to seek answers and to praise.
No matter what is ahead we can handle it because we believe in a God who has shown us repeatedly miracle after miracle and grace upon grace with each new day.
Today I pray for discernment. For God to guide me to make the best decision. I pray for an answer.
The past few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster ride for my family, friends and me. Confirming that the malignant adenocarcinoma had returned to the head of my reconstructed pancreas and having my oncologist tell us without treatment we have just months would send any human being to a deep dark place.
Having survived the absolute most fatal cancer for eight years has truly been a miracle thanks to God, you my prayer warriors, my fantastic medical team of primary care doc, surgeons, radiologists, gastroenterologists, radiologists, oncologists and the PA’s and nurses who assist them at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL.
But, realistically, we always knew there would be a day when the cancer would take over.
For a time we placed our complete trust in a non-approved trial drug Herceptin Hylecta (trastuzumab and hyaluronidase-ovsk) recently used as immunotherapy treatment for early breast cancer in HER2 positive patients, with great success I might add. Tests were run to determine the DNA of my tumor and provide the best possible match for the gene therapy. The prayer was that I might be the first pancreas cancer patient to receive the treatment…and that it would destroy the cells. That was truly our only hope.
When we asked if surgery could be performed to remove the tumor, the answer was no, there has not been success in the past with patients with similar medical situations. So truly our only hope was in the trial drug. So, we began the infusions.
Entering the chemo suites that familiar smell and feeling rushed over me like a bad dream. But, I knew this treatment would be different. My oncologist told me I would not lose my hair, I would not experience nausea but would possibly have a rash. A rash? I could surely handle that. But, it was just returning to this place I had avoided for two years, that sick feeling returned. I was happy to see a familiar face, a nurse who sat with me the entire infusion watching for adverse reaction but more importantly, chatting in light conversation.
As the test reports came in my case was presented by my oncologist to the Thursday tumor board, a group of up to eighteen Mayo docs from different departments. (Get a second opinion? Why when you have eighteen of the finest doctors in the world collaborating over your MRi’s, scans, blood work and pathology reports.)
One of the surgeons attending that day probably said, “Oh this is Judi, I am familiar with her case. She is the one who defies all of the norms with her PC.” But most importantly, he thought he had a solution. He presented his ideas to the board and they all agreed.
Shortly after the meeting my oncologist phoned. His excitement came right thru the phone as he explained what the surgeon was proposing. He told me surgery was being offered to me and to expect a call from Dr. Stauffer.
When Dr. Stauffer called I listened intently to his plan. He began by stating, “Judi, we need to think outside of the box with you.” He explained they would like to surgically remove the tumor, a suspicious lymph node behind the mesenteric artery as well as a lesion that had shown up for years on my liver, but had not grown in size in any of my scans. He said, if you agree to the surgery, I believe it can work.
My reaction was, “What have I got to lose?” He replied, “You have nothing to lose and life to gain.”
I have received two infusions to date and am scheduled for a third in early August. Scans and tests will be reviewed to check results of the infusions and to be used in the open surgery that will be performed August 17th.
Many of you are praying for me and as you have heard me say in the past, I truly believe this is the explanation I have for my survival. God is listening to your payers, and granting them. For this we are eternally grateful. So, again, I am asking for your prayers for the doctors and nurses on my care team to receive what they need to have a successful surgery. Again, not just for me but to make surgery a possibility for other PC warriors with resectable tumors.
Thankful for all of my prayer warriors and thankful for a surgeon who is willing to think outside the box.
Happy Father’s Day to this gem! What an amazing man you are. Your love of God, LIFE and love itself are just amazing examples of how to live your best life on earth. You are a loving son, brother, husband, father, uncle, poppa, entrepreneur, and friend to countless others. Never a day goes by that you don’t thank God for the blessings He has showered us with. You make others want to be better. You make us all laugh and are constantly on the search for the next family adventure. The love that you show to all of us who know you is your hallmark. We hope you feel the love this Father’s Day and every day. I am so fortunate God placed you in my life as my best friend, soulmate, caregiver and traveler on this journey called life. We love you to the moon.
God has granted me so many miracles throughout my life. But the most miraculous of all has been the gift of eight years since my diagnosis of pancreas cancer on April 29th, 2014.
Tommy and I agree these have been the best eight years of our lives together.
Our faith has grown so enormously and so deeply throughout this journey that we count that as another huge miracle He has blessed us with. Our children experience firsthand the importance of having a relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and all agree we could not handle this without Him. We put our trust in Him completely to lead us through this difficult trial.
For our friends, it has been miraculous as well. They pray diligently and many daily that we can have one more day, one more good scan, one more birth, one more memory. They see Him answer those prayers time after time. I know it has deepened their faith as well.
The most recent miracle has been the success of our 6th Champions for Hope event. Thanks to our sponsors, friends and volunteers who open their hearts and their pocketbooks to help us raise EPIC amounts of money to help the disabled community and continue our research at Mayo Jacksonville for pc early detection. Thank you just never seems enough.
Yesterday we received some news. An MRI revealed a suspicious mass in the reconstructed head of my pancreas. The MRI was ordered by my oncology team due to ongoing weight loss and GI issues I have had since last July.
The doctors believe the pancreas cancer has now metastasized to my Whipple operation site. Many of you know I have mets to my lungs that have remained stable since July 2018. (Another miracle.)
They have ordered an Endoscopic Ultrasound Procedure for June 23rd to biopsy the tumor and confirm 100% the adenocarcinoma has returned to this spot. They are not able to perform this biopsy before that date due to my positive Covid test June 1st. This test would require twilight sedation and therefore must follow CDC Covid protocol of waiting 21 days from the positive test date.
My Mayo team respects my decision to forego chemotherapy as a treatment and maintain the best possible quality of life.
They are seeking a clinical trial drug that might be successful working with my HER2 (Human Epidermal growth factor Receptor 2–positive). No person with pancreas cancer has ever received this treatment. It is approved to treat early-stage breast cancer. When this drug works for me it could mean that other pancreas cancer patients with this HER2 gene could benefit as well.
So, we ask for prayers for another miracle. Not just for me but for the countless other pc patients who may not have access to or doctors who even are aware of this treatment.
Tommy, me, and our entire family will continue to pray we can graciously accept God’s will for the outcome whatever it might be.
But, here is one thing you can completely count on…when the day comes and my life is over…I win. I will be sitting at the feet of Jesus whole once again in heaven for all of eternity.
If you are not a believer, I pray you will accept Jesus as your personal savior and be able to turn your trials into blessings just as we have.
I love you all and I am forever grateful and humbled by your love, support and prayers.
We moved to Ponte Vedra Beach in May 1993 when Lindsay and Louis were seven and six. They enrolled at Ponte Vedra Palm Valley (PVPV) first and second grades. Lindsay met Whitney that year and they are friends to this day. A couple of years later, Sammie moved to PVB and met the girls and they too are friends to this day. A couple of years later, they all met Audrey and remain close friends to this day. The girls shared graduation parties, jobs, bridal showers and bachelorette parties, weddings, baby showers, babies and all of the birthdays in between.
The girls have laughed, loved, cried and partied together for twenty-nine years. Every talent show, basketball championship, first date, heartbreak, engagement, illness of a family member, wedding and birth was shared. A strong bond grew from these life experiences and a deep love and respect for each other.
This spring break, we had the opportunity to share our little slice of heaven with the girls, some of the husbands, some of the mothers and all of the children. What a time we had. We shared memories and created even more. But, the most important thing we all took away from the weekend was how important these friendships are in our lives.
I pray YOU will embrace the ones in your life who have stuck with you through all of life’s ups and downs.
It has been quite the learning experience since we purchased our farm in Western North Carolina’s Cane Creek Valley. Neither Tommy or I had much experience with animals other than domestic dogs or fish. The dreams of our “Biggest Little Farm” being home to sweet farm animals has taught us what farm life really is all about.
Our beautiful farm with thirty-two acres, seven pastures, an open barn with four stalls, a goat barn and pen and two chicken coops enticed us to offer a forever home to any and all types. But, we knew we needed to start slowly. We wanted to find the perfect caretaker to watch over our flock and provide the time for daily chores of feeding mucking stalls and protecting what have become our mountain pets.
Fortunately we found Danny. Born and raised in this small mountain town, he owns horses and works for other neighbors attending to their properties and animals on a daily basis. He is a great fixer and can tackle any job that might arise. And, if he doesn’t know how to fix it chances are pretty good he has a cousin who can.
We started out with seven Lavender Orpington chickens recommended by our niece who has a small farm in the Eastern North Carolina coastal town of Wilmington. She searched Craigs’ List and found a breeder just twenty miles from us. Upon visiting the breeder we purchased seven six week old unsexed chicks. (The seventh chick lived just two days.) And then there were six.
It was fun preparing the chicken coop to meet Brie’s specifications. Her Dad and brother helped us with repairs while I visited the local feed and seed to find chicken pellets and bedding she said would provide the proper nutrition and make their new home comfortable.
It would be another four and a half months before the chickens would attain sexual maturity and begin to lay eggs. Our hope was that at least one of the fluffy lilac feathered birds would be a rooster, but it was too early to be sure. It ended up all six were hens.
Most of the summer was spent watching those six chickens grow and embrace their surroundings. When we added two goats to the adjacent goat pen and barn they all seemed to live in harmony. When the grandchildren visited, especially the five youngest age seven to just months old, they were intrigued by these gentle birds. They would rush out of bed mornings to let out the chickens so they could roam free range on our fenced land.
Pets need names we agreed. But it was impossible to tell them apart and the names the children tried to attach to them didn’t seem to stick except for one name…”Karen”. There was one Lavender who was always lagging behind or on her own agenda picking at bugs and seeds as the rest of the flock quickly waddled back to the coop each afternoon when I called them to return for the night. Typical to her name, Karen was the exception.
As they matured we were thrilled to see the small brown eggs they produced. Each afternoon we would collect one, then two then four or five of the most delicious eggs on the planet. The kids learned how to gently wash the clear dry membrane from the shells and place the eggs in cartons in the refrigerator to await breakfast the next day. If the membrane was not washed clean, the eggs could be kept on the kitchen counter indefinitely. It was a personal choice.
By late fall the golden and fire-red leaves had fallen and the mountain took on a completely different appearance as winter approached, the first signs of the seasons and the circle of life at the farm. Birds of prey began to soar and dart through the sky. Red-Tailed Hawk were famous for attacking chickens, but our neighbor felt our chickens were too plump for the hawks to carry away. So we just admired the beauty of these large birds visiting our home.
Until one day in late December…all six chickens would visit our main house searching the gardens for bugs and seeds. I would always reward them with a treat of dried mealworms when they tapped on my kitchen door windows. They expected a treat from their adopted mother.
One afternoon all six chickens had made their daily visit. I was talking to Tom on the phone when I looked out past the deck to see a large Lavender laying on the grass very still! As I frantically ran to it’s aid I heard the cry of the hawk as he observed me from a nearby maple tree. I ran to the house to grab my phone to take a picture. When I returned, the hawk was back perched on the chickens back. After videoing for a few seconds, I flung my arms at the predator and he flew back into the tree.
The other five chickens were gathered under the evergreens in a nearby garden. They looked like statues as they huddled to protect one another. After removing their fallen sister, I attempted to entice the group back to the safety of their coop. Once inside they remained for three days. Now there were five.
Tommy and I spent most of January at our home in Florida as Danny cared and protected the animals in our absence. Each day I would have him report on all of the animals but mainly wanted to know if any more chickens had been attacked. Regretfully, one day he reported that one more Lavender had been lost to a predator. Now there were four.
When I returned to the farm in late February, I was sad to see the remaining flock. They seemed as sad as me. They had changed their routine, never to return to the main house and staying in the thicket adjacent to the chicken coop. But, one late afternoon as I was walking down to put the chickens to bed, I heard squawking. I noticed the goats and the donkeys gathering and looking toward the coop. As I ran toward the noise I found the injured half-dead beauty laying close to the fence. While I knew I couldn’t help her, I searched the coop to see where the other three were hiding. As I peered in the dark coop I didn’t see any signs of the others.
I ran along the fence calling the ladies and ruffling the bag of dried worms that always brought them running for a treat. Nothing! Finally huddled like a statue along the fence I found one lonely chicken. I managed to entice her back to the coop where once reunited, the two others hiding behind their food bin began to make soft sounds. And then there were three.
What we have learned in this short ten months of farm ownership is what nature provides is there for the survival of many others…all of them having a unique purpose.
The beauty, the miraculous purpose of each animal has touched our hearts. But the true lesson, all Gods creatures big and small are all part of the circle of life.
Today I saw the first sign that spring is coming. I saw a red-breasted Robin. There is always hope.
Hebrews 1:10-12 “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”
Whenever I think of it the song that plays during the marketing video created by the previous owner loops through my mind. We finally found our legacy property to be enjoyed for generations after a three year search in the beautiful mountains that surround Asheville. It had to be special. It truly is a little slice of heaven.
We dreamed of having a place for our large family to gather or even just visit to escape the heat of the Florida summers or to enjoy the winter season with an occasional snowfall and of course to enjoy farm animals or relax by the fire along the creek. And God led us to this amazing place. Something for everyone to enjoy as our forever getaway.
This month we celebrated my seven year survival from Pancreatic Cancer. There are no numbers that support this miracle. We give God the complete glory for this . I know He sees the desires of our heart. He is capable of not just answering our dreams but He is capable of complete healing.
We found a place to relax and discover more of God’s masterful creation on earth. All the while creating memories with family and friends.
While there will always be bumps in the road, we cherish each new sunrise with hope knowing today is not the day. And, we will make the best of it.