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.
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.
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.
Have you ever felt you just don’t measure up as a Mother? Believe me, I am pretty sure we all feel less than perfect when it comes to being the most influential person in your child’s life, the biggest responsibility we are given. After all, as they say, kids don’t come with an instruction booklet. We are all thrust into this land called motherhood with little experience.
Louis was always a sensitive and sweet boy. He was quick to hug and kiss and always brought a smile to our faces with his dance moves and his love for entertaining all of us. His heart was pure and his spirit was gentle.
When he was around ten years old his Father decided he needed a little toughening up. He registered Louis for Pop Warner Football, a sport Louis had never shown an interest for.
At the time I was working in a management position, a very rewarding but requiring position, with a large financial services company. My work schedule was demanding. Fortunately Tom’s job as a manufacturers rep allowed him flexibility so he was available for our two smallest children. He was a hands on Dad able to pick up the slack when I had to be at the office.
We had bought a small pair of cleats and the equipment required to join the little league football team hoping to muster interest from our gentle little guy. And, the day finally arrived when he was to report to his coach and team. Unfortunately Tom had an appointment he could not reschedule so he dropped Louis off at the practice field with some encouraging words and a big hug and watched as Louis slowly made his way to the group of players assembled around the coaches.
My cell phone rang while I was at work and I picked up the call from an unfamiliar number.
“Is this Louis’s Mother?” she asked.
“Yes, I am Louis’s Mom, is he all right?” I replied.
“Well, he is but he seems a little upset at the moment. He has been sitting on a curb in the parking lot crying.” she said.
I felt my heart fall suddenly deep to my stomach. There is no worse feeling than to know your child is upset and you are a twenty minute car ride from him.
“I’m on my way, can you stay until I get there?” I replied.
The kind lady agreed and I grabbed my purse and ran to my car.
When I reached the field, I could see Louis still sitting on the curb wiping the tears away from his freckled cheeks as this angel of a Mom sat next to him, soothing him as best she could.
“I don’t want to play football.” Louis pleaded through the tears. “They want me to hit and be rough.”
That day ended Louis’ football career. But, as God would have it, he took up the game of golf, which he was perfectly suited for. And he loved it and was highly competitive.
When I reflect over the years of raising our children, there are many mistakes we have made. But, we have honed and sharpened our parenting skills over the years. And while we still make mistakes, the good far outweighs the bad.
God gives us charge over these little mini-humans and leads us along the way. If we raise them in faith and love, praying for them and providing a solid foundation, the little mistakes serve as lessons that strengthen them right along with us, as parents.
Today, Louis is the proud father of two little children and one on the way. He and his wife are figuring it all out too, just as we did and our parents before us.
Don’t be so tough on yourselves. Use each lesson as a tool to grow your skills. The rewards are greater than any other gift you are given.
The holidays were really wonderful this year after taking a much needed three month break from chemo treatments. My last infusion was October 15th and the immediate reaction was extremely difficult. I began to have nausea and digestive issues, chill and fever that afternoon. Two days later I visited the ER for fluids and to attempt to stop the symptoms that were continuing. I was admitted and remained in semi-isolation for five days.
After many blood tests and digestive scans it was determined I had contracted some sort of viral infection. Liver enzymes were spiraling in the wrong direction and I was weak and losing weight.
Several IV antibiotics were prescribed and in a few days, as soon as the liver enzymes began the slow return, and the nausea and such stopped, they sent me home.
To say I was dreading the two week appointment for my next chemo treatment was no exaggeration. But, I headed to Mayo for bloodwork and my oncology appointment. As soon as Dr. Mody entered the consultation room I announced I was going to take a break from my treatments.
His reaction was welcomed. “Good”, he said, agreeing with my unusual non-compliance. “Let’s take a break till mid January and see what we need to do after a CT scan.”
We left his office in high spirits and Tom began to make holiday plans for a trip to NYC and our annual Christmas Eve Open House. I was ecstatic.
We filled the next three months with family fun, parties, trips and dinners. Within a few weeks, I was back to feeling almost normal. Well, better than I had in many months.
I tucked my fears deep and partied on, knowing full well I would have to face the CT scan in January and whatever results it would declare, I would have to accept.
Laying on the table during the scan I prayed that whatever God’s will for me would be, we would handle it. I have the best doctors in the field of oncology to lead me and several treatment plans both conventional and even a little experimental to choose from. But, I knew we would handle the news no matter what it was just as we always had with courage and strength found solely in our faith in God.
My blood work looked good, well better then it had, we only needed now to hear what Dr. Mody would reveal.
My son Scott and daughter Lindsay accompanied me to the appointment as Tommy, my Jospeh was unable to attend. He texted to let him know the results immediately. It was great to have them with me.
As Dr. Mody entered the room I felt a rush of worry. He rushed thru the “hello’s” and as his eyes met mine he said, ” The scan was stable. Everything looks the same.” My eyes filled with tears of joy and the kids both joined in my elation. Dr. Mody suggested we go two months before another scan and no chemo treatments.
Had I continued my treatments I would not have been able to make the sweet memories our family and friends shared during this holiday season. I was once again thankful to God who had lead me to this bold decision.
Prayer is powerful. Family, friends, everyone was praying for me. I knew by the texts and phone calls I received they were lifting me up.
My Jospeh and I count our life in increments of weeks and months, choosing to be grateful for even the days we are able to be together. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone lived this way? After all, none of us are promised tomorrow.
Thanking God for His favor and for my family and friends who battle with me every step of this journey.
I tucked my fears deep and partied on, knowing full well I would have to face the CT scan in January and whatever results it would declare, I would have to accept.
The metallic taste and the nausea would begin the moment I thought about my upcoming chemo infusion appointment. Don’t get me wrong, Mayo does everything to make the experience relaxing and comfortable with their individual chemo suites complete with a sofa and table for a guest or two and a large smart TV complete with library of about fifty or more top movies /series including The Mayo Clinic – Faith-Hope- Science, a film based on the PBS documentary by acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns and his associates Erik Ewers and Christopher Loren Ewers. But, it still wasn’t enough to take the feeling away from the poison dripping slowly into my surgically implanted port, working its way into the chambers of my heart and disbursing throughout my body, seeking out those pancreatic cancer cells it was intended to destroy. I truly could taste it smell it and, after 14 months of chemo, I dreaded it.
Truth is, I had somehow contracted a viral infection days before my last infusion October 15, 2019. My already compromised body now was taking on a chemo cocktail that would make a healthy body sick. But we had no way of knowing. The bloodwork taken prior to the chemo prescription being prepared didn’t show anything unusual. As soon a I returned home from my infusion I became ill. This was not my typical routine. The nausea had never come on strong and hard the first day. It was always sort of building and hit hard around the third day after.
Two days later I was admitted into the hospital in semi-isolation to determine the source of my nausea and digestive issues. Five days later I went home only when my liver enzymes reported they were heading in the right direction. Doctors agreed it was a viral infection. It took another three weeks for me to recover. I had lost my appetite and about 12 pounds and was weak from being in bed.
Whatever it was….I didn’t want to experience it again. In just a few days I was scheduled to have chemo again. I could taste it and feel it and was dreading it already.
November 11th I was scheduled and dutifully reported for my blood work and oncology consult with Dr. Mody. But, as soon as he walked into the consultation room, I told him I had made a decision…I was not going to be taking chemo today. I was taking a break. he smiled and said “Good.”
His reaction was just what I hoped it would be. Medically we both knew I should be taking it, however, emotionally I just couldn’t do it. I think he saw that too.
We agreed to schedule a CT Scan mid January. That would give me a three month break. I could enjoy Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years with our big family. It was perfect.
And, enjoy we did. Grocery shopping, planning the Thanksgiving meal, Tom’s Dad coming down from Cleveland, it was great. Then Christmas decorating, cookie decorating, shopping, wrapping and celebrating, a quick trip to NYC, holiday parties and family, family, family. We were overjoyed.
What will happen January 17th with the CT Scan? Only God knows. We trust that He will lead us to the perfect decision of what treatment, if any we will choose. Until then, I will enjoy feeling whole and not missing out on one moment of one day.
My husband is continually planning trips to coincide with my chemo treatment schedule. The trips usually celebrate life. This trip deserved a little more focus, after all we were celebrating reaching another decade. I miraculously had reached my 70th birthday.
Miraculous because just 5 years ago I was given a diagnosis with a statistically low survival rate of 9% for 5 years. At that time I seriously doubted I would even see my 70th birthday, let alone be taking a trip to honor it.
Tommy had encouraged friends to come along if they could, on our five day vacation to Napa. He had organized an amazing itinerary. Each day would begin with a spa service for both of us, a limo driver would pick us up before lunchtime and and we would delight in private wine tastings at just two of the finest vineyards Napa has to offer. We would be driven to a perfectly selected dinner spot then taken back to our hotel to sit by the outdoor fireplace and reflect on the day. Perfectly planned by this seasoned Napa admirer.
Only one couple could get away for the adventure, Pete and Pam. They had never been to Napa but accompany us on most of our adventures. We are great traveling buddies.
The trip was just fantastic and we found ourselves relaxed and refreshed after leaving. We couldn’t wait to share with our friends back home the delicious and very special wines we had purchased on our trip. Now on to the second leg of this birthday celebration… Las Vegas!
It was certainly a birthday celebration to remember.