Category Archives: Mayo Clinic

When God answered….

When God answered….

There are several nodules in my lungs that my medical team have been keeping an eye on for over a year. They say the sophistication of equipment used in chest CT scans has improved so much that if they were to scan everyone, chances are pretty good they would find nodules in a good percentage. But, they preface this by adding, of course, they are not pancreas cancer patients.

The horrible thing about pancreas cancer is the seamless way it slips into cells in other major organs. There is a river of sorts with tiny tributaries that runs thru the pancreas sending enzymes to your digestive system and ultimately throughout your body. These enzymes are necessary for the body to absorb valuable nutrients our body needs to thrive. The pancreas also produces insulin important to maintaining sugar levels that support many other systems throughout our bodies. While it is a pretty important organ, you actually can live without a pancreas with the help of digestive enzymes and insulin that can be prescribed. (Disclaimer alert….I am not a doctor, and forgive me if I have misspoken, but this is how it was explained to me.)

For over three years there were no significant changes in my three month CT scans that are on the hunt for new masses, lit up lymph nodes and who knows what else. But, suddenly, one of the lung nodules they had watched for over a year seemed to solidify and grow from what is described as “ground glass” with no real form to a one centimeter spot. This was the size docs had told me it would have to reach before we could do a biopsy. After my team of doctors reviewed the suspect nodule, they agreed a needle biopsy should be ordered.

The out-patient procedure was scheduled and we were given instructions and of course the precautionary worse case scenarios that could occur. About 15% of patients undergoing a needle biopsy of the lung will experience deflation of the lung which is painful and you will be required to spend the night in the hospital while the lung is re-inflated. The worst part of the procedure was supposed to be numbing the area. Tommy and I agreed we had already beaten so many odds since our original diagnosis of PC that surely we could beat this too.

Doctors explained that there were three possibilities. 1) Inflammation causing enlargement of the node. 2) Lung cancer or 3) Metastatic pancreas cancer. While it seems odd to pray for lung cancer, we actually did. It would have been early stage lung cancer with a relatively high rate of cure. Option number three was not discussed in detail because we all knew that would change my staging to a four with lung being one of our major organs and a recurrence to battle once again. But of course we hoped it was just inflammation.

The day of the appointment came. We have a ritual prayer Tom prays as we make the left turn into Mayo campus. He grabs my hand and prays aloud to God to give us courage to believe He will bring us through this day and provide us with the strength we all need as a family to face whatever His will is for us. I told Tommy I would be going under Jesus’ wing feathers, Psalm 91 just as I did for every frightening procedure before. Power port access and blood draw began at seven AM. We registered and made our way to the second floor staging area. I was taken back to be prepared and shortly after Tommy joined me in the curtained waiting area bay #16.

There would be no sedation for this procedure explained the doctor. They needed me to be completely awake. I had to help with important breathing techniques that would enable them to penetrate that small nodule that was like a moving target inside my lung. The heart is beating and the diaphragm is working, so no drug that might deplete the lungs air capacity could be administered. The area would be numbed with Lidocaine which would be a sharp prick and then burning as the numbing took over. They said I should feel just a small amount of pressure when the actual biopsy was taken, a punch sound and then a little pressure. I was ready to go.

A young Asian male nurse wheeled me back to the CT room and asked me to transfer to the bed for the scan. Several nurses and technicians were in the room preparing whatever it was they were responsible for. They assured me the nurse would be there just to attend to me. The rest of them would be doing their jobs. They asked me to lay on my stomach and laid my head on a pillow facing the glass window to the adjacent office where more techs seemed to be discussing what they saw on the monitor. I was fairly relaxed and ready to have this part of the ordeal over with. The doctor entered the room and told me my job was a series of breaths that would help them to capture the tissue they needed. But, if I experienced any pain to let them know immediately. I told them I had a pretty high pain tolerance so I would be able to do whatever they needed me to do.

Suddenly they were prepping my back shoulder blade with betadine solution. Next came the Lidocaine shot…”Here you will feel a big pinch and then burning” , said the doctor. He was not kidding. It seemed like he gave me several injections of the numbing medication as I felt the burning subside leaving just some pressure. I would not have moved if I had to. This was serious. It was explained to me that it was just like piercing a balloon with a needle. They didn’t want that balloon to burst.

It seemed like I completed a thousand trips into the CT machine and requests to “take a short breath in, hold it, now breath.” as the doctor guided his scope aiming for that small moving target …the center of the nodule. He stopped for additional Lidocaine and instruction from the attending physician, eyes were glued to the monitor. Finally the other doctor took over and at long last…success. They quickly took two needle biopsy’s and removed the prob from my back. “It’s all over” she said. “We got two good tissue samples. Now lay completely still so we can check to make sure the hole we just put into your lung closes as it should. If you feel any pain, let us know.” She moved quickly to the office and I could see them in the window glued to the monitor.

Alone in the room I laid face down on the bed not moving a muscle. Suddenly I felt a huge cramping in my left lung around what I suspected to be my heart. I cringed and waited to see if it would pass. I seemed to move outward from the core and then engulf my entire lung. I couldn’t take a breath and I feared I might run out of breath.

A nurse entered the room asking if I was doing okay. I told them what was happening and suddenly the room filled. “Your vitals are fine, the scan shows the hole is closing just as it should be. You are going to be fine. Let’s move you.”

I didn’t want to move or to be touched. “Please just give me a minute.” I gasped.

But suddenly they were grabbing the sheet that I laid on and sliding me over to the gurney and moving me on my side. The pain was almost unbearable. The gurney began to move taking me out of the CT room and down the hall to the recovery area I had left just an hour before.

My sweet friend Kelly Winer lights a candle at beautiful Cathedral de San Juan


The doctor explained to Tommy and my son Scott who had just arrived, the procedure had gone really well and they would be giving me pain medication, Dilaudid, into my port and that should stop the cramping once I relaxed. It took two doses to dull the pain. I felt like a feather drifting through the room. The cramping continued but it allowed me to breath. Tommy held my hand telling me to breath through my nose and slowly let it out. I held his hand tightly and followed his prompting. We remained in the room for an another hour under observation and finally given the all clear to go home. We should have the results of the biopsy by Tuesday afternoon.

While the procedure was difficult it could not compare to the anxiety of awaiting a phone call to tell you if you are facing another life threatening cancer diagnosis. And, the anxiety touched not only Tommy and I, but our entire family and close friends too.

Would be have to put our plans on hold for trips during the holidays? Would I have hair for a Christmas card photo? Would I be strong enough to decorate, buy gifts and entertain? These thoughts ran through my mind the entire weekend.

Tommy and I attended evening mass a few days before the biopsy procedure and Msgr. administered the sacrament anointing of the sick. We had asked for prayer from my bible study groups and close friends we knew we could count on. Everyone was eager to get on their knees once again.

Family and friends gathered at our home most of the weekend. When Monday arrived we both jumped each time the phone rang. We didn’t sleep well and I had a throbbing headache most of the time, unusual for me. Finally it was Tuesday. Tommy didn’t know if he should go to work or not. He wanted to be the one to take the phone call. He stayed close to me all day.

The clock struck 6 on Tuesday evening and we were pretty sure we would not get a call so late. We tried to sleep to the gentle ping of our cell phones as text messages came in from family wondering if we had gotten any news. Every text and email told of more who were praying for good results.

When we arose on Wednesday morning Tommy made a pot of coffee and we read the paper together. Finally he asked me if we should call the doctor or just show up at his office? Suddenly the phone rang and it was a Mayo Clinic number. Tommy sprang from his chair grabbing my phone and made his way to our bedroom. I stood looking out of the kitchen window praying to God and thanking Him for our many blessings.

The call didn’t take long but I strained to hear any response Tommy was making. I couldn’t hear anything. He came to the kitchen and asked me to join him in the bedroom. We kneeled down next to the bed and he began to pray.

“God, we don’t understand how you continue to shower us with your blessing and grace. We are so thankful for this report of no cancer this morning……” I barely heard the rest of the prayer. We both sobbed and embraced.

God had heard the prayers. His plan was in place long before we were even born. It is all about Him truthfully. But I still believe He must have heard all of those voices asking for His favor. He must have figured, this lady needs to stay awhile longer. She has more work to be done. This was a time we all prayed and He answered.

Thank you Jesus.

The rest of the day I walked thru the house feeling like a bright yellow sunflower standing tall and swaying in the sunshine of a Tuscan field, thankful for my faith, for my husband and my family and for my prayerful friends.

“Trouble, trouble, trouble….Sometimes I swear it feels like this worry is my only friend”

“Trouble, trouble, trouble….Sometimes I swear it feels like this worry is my only friend”
ServPro So Jacksonville and Arlington golf event to benefit Champions for Hope

ServPro So Jacksonville and Arlington golf event to benefit Champions for Hope

Apprehension is building to the date of that dreaded scan.The March and June scans revealed spots on my lungs that my oncologist, Dr. Johnson said the chance of a reoccurrence of my pancreatic cancer could be 3 or 4 on a scale of 1-10.

With my husband out of town our daughter Lindsay and her baby boys joined me the entire day at Mayo in June as I checked off my schedule of appointments. 8AM blood work on the chemotherapy floor, because they know how to access my port without pain. 12:30 drink the contrast liquid down about 1/2 an hour before the 5 minute CT scan. Then afternoon appointments, allowing for the radiology department to read the scans and write their findings then meeting with my oncologist who will review the labs and CT scan report and give us the results. Then another appointment with my Radiology-oncologist for his take on the reports. They attempt to schedule both docs appointments back to back so there is no waiting for that thumbs up from everyone and we can get on with our lives, at least for three more months anyway.

That is how we live our lives in this family, at three month intervals.

According to the doctor those 3 or 4 or more “lit up” nodules grew in size from March to June, but remained under 1cm and too small to go thru the pain of collapsing my lung to biopsy them. I had a case of pneumonia early in spring. Could that have had anything to do with this I asked? My radiology oncologist was more positive than the oncologist. He said it could be lung cancer, which would be better for me than a metastatic pancreatic cancer.

Lindsay quipped on the way home in the car, “Here we are praying it is lung cancer. Something just seems wrong about that.”

Jaguars "Meet me on the 50"  night.

Jaguars “Meet me on the 50” night.

My amazing husband planned fun trips for us during the three months. One week in Cleveland to visit family and catch the Cavs’ Championship ring ceremony. That turned in to game two of the World Series with the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs. What at week. Then we had baby showers and Jacksonville Jags games and of course my work with both foundations. They would keep me as busy as possible so I could not have time to think about the grey cloud that was hovering just above me.

The LAND.....Cleveland ROCKS

The LAND…..Cleveland ROCKS

Purple Stride – Jacksonville Beach….

The D'Errico's turn out in full support of Jude's Dude's Purple Stride 2016

The D’Errico’s turn out in full support of Jude’s Dude’s Purple Stride 2016

Oh, and then hurricane Matthew and an evacuation!

Hurricane Matthew - evacuation to Poppas warehouse. 12 adults and 9 dogs....fun fun fun

Hurricane Matthew – evacuation to Poppas warehouse. 12 adults and 9 dogs….fun fun fun

Not much time to think about possibilities. There is no reason to worry, God is in control. I know that He has much work for me to do. I believe He has given me this time to help others with raising awareness of this lethal cancer that tries to steal life, laughter and love from it’s next target. But, not today PC. Today I am thankful for my cancer. We have a new outlook on everything thanks to this diagnosis, surgery and treatment. Our family has grown closer, we hug friends a little tighter, we look at the world thru our God eyes recognizing His “winks” along the way. And, we see His hand in preparing us for this time going back years to careers, friendships and moves. He had a plan all along. And, we have no idea when that plan will end, not one of us. So, I am grateful for each day, each person in my life and each breath. I hope when I am face to face with Him, I can look directly into those gentle eyes and say, “I did my best.”

Champions for Hope

Champions for Hope

Judi and JT graduation copy

On a warm June day as I stood at the UNF Arena podium before approximately twelve hundred mourners, I felt a strange peace come over me. I had prayed I could get through the eulogy of a man who changed my life and the lives of my family. A man I love dearly. A man who had shown me my purpose.

At that time I felt my purpose was to carry on his legacy of fulfilling the mission of a foundation we built together by helping people who had been in his very situation, broken and afraid. On that day I could never imagine how that defining moment would explode into yet another purpose even more personal than this.

Just ten months later my husband and I sat on the sofa of my new doctors office. I had always been very healthy. Recently what I wrote off as advancing age; knees clicking, meniscus tears, indigestion all started creeping up on me. Years of walking, body sculpting classes, treadmills and ellipticals pounding my medium sized frame were starting to reveal a truth…I was aging. Confident the doctor would concur with our diagnosis, we smiled when she entered the room and asked me to take a seat on the examining table. She was pretty, about thirty something, so accomplished for her age. But her demeanor was serious. She began to explain the results of the sonogram she had ordered the day before as she turned to her computer screen she pointed to something in the middle of my torso. “You have a mass in the head of your pancreas.” she said. Tom jumped from the sofa to sit on the table beside me. “Your blood work and symptoms reveal it could be pancreatic cancer.” A tear trickled down her cheek as she stoically shared her findings leading to this conclusion. My immediate response, “Can you live without your pancreas?” I was unaware of what the pancreas did. Tom held me tightly as she explained, “Yes,you can, but you would live on insulin for the rest of your life.” She had made an appointment with a surgeon at the Mayo Clinic for the next day. We left her office in utter shock.

The rest of the week was filled with MRI’s, more blood work, conversations with our surgical team, visits to church and meetings with immediate family. I was on a fast decline. Just 11 days after my initial appointment I was on the operating table for a 9 and 1/2 hour Whipple surgery by one of the best pancreatic cancer surgeons in the world.

My treatment and recovery took more than one year. To this day I am affected by the resection of my entire digestive system. Chemo and radiation have turned my stomach muscles to mush as well as deterioration of my bones. I recently underwent 2 and 1/2 hour surgery to repair hernias that developed where drains and other incisions had been required.

But, I am here 26 months at this writing cancer free from a lethal cancer that has a less than 8% survival rate of five years. I am a miracle.

To endure a day like October 8th, 2004 for JT, the date of his near fatal spinal cord injury and April 29th, 2014, the date of my diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, is something I would not wish upon anyone.
But, a friend told me one day I would look back on this trial as a blessing. And, that has proven to be true.

That blessing is the revelation of purpose. To move forward with each day that God blesses us with. To take that most difficult situation and turn it into good. To show others that through faith you can conquer anything. Be the example, make others see the hope you glean from a relationship with the only one who truly matters, our savior Jesus Christ.

What was hope for JT? That he would walk again? That he would be able to play football again? That he would hold his wife and baby one day. Only JT knows the true answer to that question. But, he never questioned “why me”. He moved forward each day with a smile and purpose to use his life experience to help others.

What is hope for me? That I will survive this death sentence? That cancer will not steal me from the ones I love too soon? Deep in my soul I promise you I am fine with death. But, I am hopeful that others will see my peace and they will reach deep down too and use each and every day to fight to give others hope.

JT and I have a mutual friend, a friend who we love and loves us both right back. The 2005 Players Champion – pro golfer Fred Funk and his wife and children joined forces with my husband, rock and best friend Tommy Zitiello, to create an event that will be like none other. An event to be held on one of the most prestigious golf courses in the country, The Champions for Hope Golf Classic.

The inaugural Champions for Hope golf classic presented by the Funk-Zitiello Foundation, Inc. (501C3 IRS designation applied for) will be held Friday, June 16th,2017, Father’s Day weekend, a gala, concert and auction at the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse. Golf will commence on Saturday, June 17th on the famed Stadium course. There will be 25 foursomes and a fifth celebrity. The proceeds from this event will be paid to two First Coast causes, The JT Townsend Foundation, Inc. and to fund a grant to research pancreatic cancer.

We intend for this event to grow annually, to give hope to the families of those affected by both of these causes and in years to come other worthy causes.

To find out how you can become a champion for hope send your inquiry to info@championsforhopegolf.com.

God bless everyone, individuals and sponsors who have stepped up to join our team of champions for hope to help benefit these two deserving causes.

Champions for HOpe logo copy

A battle and a blessing

A battle and a blessing
Mayo Clinic Jacksonville - March 28th, 2016 Hernia repair Surgery Dr. Asbun

Mayo Clinic Jacksonville – March 28th, 2016 Hernia repair Surgery Dr. Asbun

Am I battling for my life? Is the enemy surrounding me and do I have weapons that I raise to fight?

This week I read an article written by Kate Granger who has cancer who claimed cancer is not a fight. She said, in her view “the cancer seems to revolve around wartime rhetoric: battle, fight, warrior, beat.” She found these words uncomfortable and frustrating to hear.

“I would like to be remembered for the positive impact I have made on the world, for fun times and for my relationships with others, not as a loser. When I do die, I will have defied the prognosis for my type of cancer and achieved a great deal with my life. I do not want to feel a failure about something beyond my control. I refuse to believe my death will be because I didn’t battle hard enough.”, she wrote.

Please don’t think I challenge her personal opinion. In fact, I found it to be an interesting point of view. It got me to do some serious thinking about my perspective. Would I be offended if someone uttered “she lost her brave fight” once that I have passed on?

Not at all.

Another writer, Rebecca Hamilton wrote she felt “like someone who has wintered over at the South Pole and is now peeking from behind doors at the newcomers who’ve arrived with the sun….I been fighting for my life, just as surely as any gladiator in an arena, any soldier in battle. I have been, like they are, on strange soil, someone else’s territory, guarding my back as well as my front as I sought purchase on the shaky ground under my feet, as I fought to find the way out of the nightmare.”

Rebecca resented the word “survivor” at first. “After all, no one “survives” cancer, at least not with surety. It can come back at any time and when it does, chances are that it will come back meaner and more advanced than the last time we saw it.”

Now she understands the word survivor differently.”I feel like a survivor, but of a decidedly unheroic, uncertain and battered sort. I am not the heroine, striding over the top of a hill to claim my victory crown. I am rather a shipwreck victim, washed up on a beach, half conscious and too exhausted to lift her face out of the sand.”

I felt that was a perfect analogy. I could relate to that person lying weak on the sandy beach after washing ashore. Fighting to stay atop the water, treading till I feared I would give up. That is what it feels like to endure surgery, infections, drains, chemotherapy and radiation. Yet, I made it to shore. I didn’t give up. I didn’t succumb to the waves or the cold or the uncertainty of my fate.

I won that battle. I am victorious. But it is only temporary.

I lift my mug each morning and take a sip of my creamy hot joe watching the sun rise. Assessing how I am feeling, I think to myself as Rebecca thinks….”Today I feel good….Today is not the day I am going to die.” I have TODAY.

Surviving with strong faith has been my victory. Will I win the battle over cancer? Statistically not. Regardless of where the cancer moves next my death certificate will read…”Cause of Death…Pancreatic Cancer.” But, I will fight a good fight. I will battle forward.

Everyday I am blessed to live I will pray for God to grace me with time to see my children and my grandchildren thrive.

” The same cancer ordeal that has ravaged your body can put you in a place so close to God that you can feel His presence every moment….You can feel the everlasting arms around you and know that you are loved, cherished and protected there forever.” says Rebecca. (Oh is she ever right about that.) “You don’t have to do anything except trust. Just let God love you through this and you will wash up on that shore, battered and ravaged physically, but stronger than you have ever been spiritually.”

I pray people will remember how they saw Jesus thru me. He surely lives in me. I am so thankful for the faith that brings me through this battle. There are so many that do not believe and I cannot imagine how they must suffer. I might not win the battle with cancer….but I have deepened my faith and the faith of my family and those close to me. For that I am thankful.

Cancer is a battle but more importantly it has turned out to be a blessing.

Will I be here for……

Will I be here for……
Jude's Main Dude

Jude’s Main Dude

The local greeting card store was not busy as I entered. It was time to buy some cards for the late fall birthdays approaching. The owner, recognizing me as a frequent customer, smiled at me and said “hello”. I nodded and kept walking toward the birthday section.

Should I buy just one card for my daughter and my sons? Or, should I buy several, sign them and put them away? I could tell them what I would want them to know, some tidbit of wisdom I had gathered from years of experience fitting for that time of life. This seemed like a great idea…until I started to read the cards.

After choosing a beautiful card for my daughter, I began to read the text, my eyes filled up with tears. This was going to be far more difficult than I had expected. The idea was loosing its appeal.

Suddenly, the store manager was approaching asking if she could help me find what I was looking for. She noticed my tears and sweetly asked if I was okay.

I had been strong for so long in front of my family and friends about this cancer thing. Suddenly the flood gates had opened and this poor lady stood before me.

One of the reasons I loved this store was because the owner and most of the sales ladies were Christians. They were so loving and kind and always sure to say “have a blessed day” as you left.

I figured the owner deserved some sort of explanation. I certainly couldn’t lie. So, out it came. “I am battling pancreatic cancer and I am not sure how long I will be around, so I was thinking of buying cards, signing them and putting them away.” Like and angel sent from God, she wrapped her arms around me and cried softly with me.

Then she began to pray over me. It was so comforting. We stood there in the birthday aisle for several minutes, until I had collected myself. I told her this might not be the right time to do this. She agreed. “Give it some more thought and you will know when you are ready.”

18 months have passed since my diagnosis, surgery, treatment, and 4 clear CT scans. I am currently cancer free. The PC statistics are not in my favor, but, I am feeling great and positive about the near future.

One thing I do know for certain, I am thankful I trust a God who loves me and protects me and sends His angels to hold me up when I need it, even a clerk in the greeting card store.

Purple Stride – 2015

Purple Stride – 2015
Delivering my speech before Purple Stride race begins.

Delivering my speech before Purple Stride race begins.

In June, 2010 I went to cooking school in the foothills of the Appenines just south of Florence, Italy with a good foodie friend, Kelly who is here today. We prepared our meals in a 300 year-old stone barn that had been renovated into a rustic kitchen. I learned to prepare tasty meals with limited organic ingredients. I fell in love with Italy, Italian cuisine and my teacher Chef Laura. So much so that I returned with 4 more of my friends in 2012.

In April 2014, when I lost my inspiration to cook, my appetite and my yearning for a great full-bodied cabernet, I knew something wasn’t right.

Mayo Clinic Docs found a mass in my pancreas and surgery was scheduled two weeks later.

Our sixth grandchild was presented by our only daughter and her husband a week before my surgery. They named him “Jude”. This was the single most important honor that has ever been given me.

I underwent 9 and ½ hour Whipple surgery by my hero Dr. Horcio Asbun. The human I credit with saving my life.

Many of you here today know first hand what that surgery entails. I lived thru the recovery, a serious infection, the chemo and the radio chemotherapy taking my final treatment Christmas Eve.

I stand here today 16 months cancer free.

What I do want to share with you is what my husband, my family and friends learned from our trial.

Tom, whom I now call Joseph, who led our family thru this dessert- and I leaned that God is in control .We agreed to say “Yes” to anyone who offered help. People want to help. They don’t know what to say or what to do or how they can help…but …if you answer “yes’ you will see the love of God thru them. They are His hands helping you and loving you. You are blessed and they will be too by making a meal, changing your bed, rubbing cream on your feet and hands. I felt God’s love in every action and our family did too.

When I was at my weakest point, Joseph, (Tom) asked me what I wanted to do in my life, what I dreamed of. I told him it was to take our family to Italy. He said “DONE”.
In July we flew 13 family members, our children and grandchildren to Milan. We took them on a tour of the Vatican and Rome. We rented a house on Lake Como and threw a wedding for our son and his bride in a small Catholic Church on that beautiful lake.

God winked at me that week. While I was walking 60 meters from the boat ramp to our rental home on a stretch of narrow road, my Chef Laura from cooking school saw me as she was driving from Milan to Billagio at that very moment. She stopped, came to our home, met my family and shared an hour with us.

Quite frankly, I never dreamed I would see Laura again. I believe God made that happen.

Laura Giusti, my Chef and my friend.

Laura Giusti, my Chef and my friend.

This disease is a beast. We all have an expiration date. Those with PC realize that date could be sooner than later. The vulnerability permeates to your family and friends. It shows them that each family member is a treasure, friend is a blessing, each moment of every day is a gift.

If you or your loved one has PC, remember this. God is in control. He loves every one of us. Put your faith in Him and give your worries and your fears up to Him. He will lift that burden from your shoulders and show you His love.

Todays walk will raise awareness of this dreadful cancer and increase research funding so that early detection stops the growth of this disease and doesn’t let it gain status of becoming the #1 cancer killer within the next five years.

NEGU and give your fear and your family up to God. He will bless you beyond your belief.

Thank you for being here today to walk by our side in this battle.

The walk was exhausting for little baby Jude

The walk was exhausting for little baby Jude

One month out from treatment.

One month out from treatment.

FullSizeRender

It has been one full month since toxic chemotherapy was injected into my ‘whipple body”. (That’s what I call my body post surgery May 12th, 2014.) I still feel the effects of it. When I look at a date, my mind goes not automatically jump to the sense of time to or from the date. I can barely put this week together. I feel my strength slowly coming back. My desire to prepare a special gnocchi from scratch along with my simple marinara showed me I am on my way back to normalcy…well, a normalcy that includes a medical history of pancreatic cancer. No….normalcy is not a word I will use to describe life as it is now.

When I came home from the hospital during my infection time, I had lost around 35 pounds. Lindsay and her friend Samantha had me put on a fashion show. Everything that looked frumpy went into the donate bag. We all have those clothes back in the rear of the closet we believe we will one day fit back into. Some of them stayed in the front of the closet and some were even too big. It was a really fun day as weak as I was. And I felt good cleaning out the closet. They say with the Whipple Surgery, you probably will not return to your previous weight. Having been a bit on the heavy side, I was thankful for that. Isn’t it interesting to think it could be a good thing to have a few extra pounds on when cancer hits you?

As far as my appetite, it has not returned. Food tastes ok. Nothing really give me a craving. I eat three meals a day most times and I even had a glass of wine for the first time in 8 months. It tasted ok. Before meals I take medications to help my digestion – Creon to replace the work my full sized pancreas did producing the enzymes to digest the food. Reglan for nausea, Ativan for nausea, and Anti-Diarreal and an acid controller for reflux. The pills work, I can eat most anything and have a pill for anything that might come up….haha…or down, as the case may be. It is not easy, but I am alive and I am doing far better than most of those I read about on the Facebook Whipple Survivors Page.

If you have had Whipple Surgery I strongly suggest you check it out. It is a great way to get support and some questions answered. I must warn you though…..don’t second guess your qualified physician. If you don’t feel you agree with your physician, find a new one.

So, as it seems to me, I am doing GREAT! I drove the car for the first time last week. It was strange, but made me feel good. I am looking forward to restorative Yoga and even some tread-milling soon. Next scan is in March.
Keep the prayers coming. They certainly are working. And, thank you for your love and support.

Thank you to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Treatment Plan

Treatment Plan

Crossing the finish line…

Crossing the finish line…

Final Chemo 12/24/14

Final Chemo 12/24/14


December 24th, 2014 at 12:30PM I stepped out of the chemo chair with the help of my husband, whom I lovingly call “Joseph”(as in Mary and Joseph), his real name is Tom, with a huge smile on my face. The chemo nurse handed me a “Certificate of Completion” signed by the entire floor of nurses. I had made it to the end of my treatment protocol.The protocol included one month of Gemzar chemotherapy one month of Radiation and 5FU,a form of chemotherapy administered by a pump continuously, one month off, twelve treatments of Gemzar over four months. After seven months I was officially done with my treatment for pancreatic cancer.

It was Christmas Eve and we had planned to meet the family at our annual gathering spot in front of the huge decorated Christmas tree at our club. I had four hours of medication that would get me thru the celebration with little or no nausea.

We all gathered in front of the huge fireplace on sofas and chairs and Tom ordered up room service of flatbreads and chicken fingers and everyone of age had a Christmas cocktail. Two of my dearest friends joined us with flowers in hand. My children and grand children were all in attendance. It was beautiful.

My dear friends, Lisa and Michele joined us at the PVIC  to celebrate the completion of my treatment on Christmas Eve.

My dear friends, Lisa and Michele joined us at the PVIC to celebrate the completion of my treatment on Christmas Eve.

It was a strange Christmas Eve. Normally we would be holding our open house with as many as 150 people celebrating the birth of baby Jesus. But, not this year. I knew by 5PM I would be yearning for my comfy bed. Tom would be home with me while the rest of the family attended Christmas parities with family and friends.

And, that is exactly what happened. I needed to get thru the next twenty four hours as best I could.

Christmas morning Tom was up bright and early preparing my Christmas blend coffee and sorting out the mountain of presents into separate piles on the sofa so when the kids arrived they could dig right in opening gifts.

Lindsay had prepared our traditional breakfast casserole and placed it in the preheated oven as soon as she came thru the door. In about half an hour it wold smell like Christmas……..”woodsey” smoke from the fireplace, tasty cinnamon coffee brewing from the pot and fluffy eggs and sausage baking in the oven. YUM! (Well, maybe not yum for me….but I would not have had it any other way.) Traditions are very important to me. This year was baby Jude’s first Christmas. He needed to have all the sensations even though he is only 7 months old.

His pile of gifts matched Christmases of years past for all of the children. He is a loved little angel and we would make sure he knew it, as well as his parents.

What would next Christmas be like? That is the problem with cancer. It never leaves your mind. It is always lurking in the shadows. But, you know, it has helped me to realize the importance of each minute of each day, of each celebration, each tradition. I am not afraid because I know I am going to meet my sweet Jesus in heaven. I do worry about those left behind. But, our time on earth is like the blink of an eye. It is comforting to know we will be together for all of eternity.

Everyone is in the race and everyone will cross the finish line sooner or later.

Our color purple! Purple Stride – September 27th, 2014

Our color purple! Purple Stride – September 27th, 2014

Over 150 Jude's Dudes assembled at Jax. Beach Seawalk Pavilion  to raise awareness of Pancreatic Cancer.

Over 150 Jude’s Dudes assembled at Jax. Beach Seawalk Pavilion to raise awareness of Pancreatic Cancer.

Many of us wondered if we should assemble an ARC for the annual Purple Stride 5K to raise awareness and funding for research for pancreatic cancer. It had been raining steadily for several days and the forecast did not show any relief in sight. Floridians were beginning to wonder if our meteorologist had fallen asleep. But, we moved forward with our plan and our goal to kick some pancreatic cancer butt by building teams and raising serious cash for funding of this dreadful cancer. Rain could not deter us from assembling our battle teams.

According to the American Cancer Society, “for all stages of pancreatic cancer combined, the one-year relative survival rate is 20%, and the five year rate is 6%. These low survival rates are attributable to the fact that fewer than 20% of patients’ tumors are confined to the pancreas at the time of diagnosis, in most cases, the malignancy has already progressed to the point where surgical removal is impossible.”

“In those cases where resection an be performed, the average survival rate is 18 to 20 months. The overall five year survival rate is about 10% although this can rise as high as 20% to 25% if the tumor is removed completely and when cancer has not spread to lymph nodes.”

It just made perfect sense to ask my friends, family and neighbors to help us with in this fight. BUT, I was not prepared for what was about to happen.

Purple Stride events can be found across the nation and have been raising awareness and funding since 2003. “For participants it is a time to honor loved ones fighting pancreatic cancer. It is a day when all of the family and friends of pancreatic cancer patients can come together in solidarity to gain both comfort and encouragement.” according to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network based in Manhattan Beach, California.

Our team, Judes’ Dudes raised over $12,000 honoring family members who had earned their purple wings and others who are in the fight today.
That morning I said a little prayer to God and also to JT that they would please stop the rain just long enough for us to complete the 5K. And, just before the race was started, our prayers were answered, the rain stopped just along the beach in perfect timing, of course.

The survivor tent was a great place for survivors to mingle and share their journeys. It was encouraging to see the hope in their eyes and know that they were not alone in their fight. Numbers and emails were exchanged.

Dr. Horacio Asbun,. Mayo Surgeon who performed my Whipple Surgery laparoscopically

Dr. Horacio Asbun,. Mayo Surgeon who performed my Whipple Surgery laparoscopically


My biggest surprise was to see my hero, Mayo surgeon Dr. Horacio Asbun, the man who performed my whipple surgery and literally saved my life.

After the race, my sweet Tom asked everyone to come back to the house for brunch. Chef Hector and his team from TPC Clubhouse did an amazing job feeding the runners.

fruit and granola parfaits, fruit, danish, egg frittata, and eggs-benedict on a square of grits. Deliciousness all around. And Tom served Mimosa's. It was a great end to a great race.

fruit and granola parfaits, fruit, danish, egg frittata, and eggs-benedict on a square of grits. Deliciousness all around. And Tom served Mimosa’s. It was a great end to a great race.

Two little Jude's Dudes from as far away as Tampa and Cleveland....Frankie and Autumn our little cousins.

Two little Jude’s Dudes from as far away as Tampa and Cleveland….Frankie and Autumn our little cousins.

More Dude’s:

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This is tough.....

This is tough…..

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And after the walk....brunch around the pool........

And after the walk….brunch around the pool……..

And we ended the race with a dance request….Mike D’Errico wrote “I guess this is how you fight cancer.”

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The Infection…

The Infection…

“Less than three percent of patients undergoing Whipple surgery contract infection.” said our surgeon, Dr. Asbun.

Just seven days after discharge from a six day Whipple surgery recovery stay, I was rushed to the Mayo ER with a 101 temperature and general overall feeling of lethargy. The drain, placed in my side to remove excess bile that collected post surgery was filling with a different looking substance. I was admitted and a CT Scan was ordered for the morning. The scan revealed three areas of abscess, one quite large where the original drain was located. The surgical team agreed I would need one more JP drain with the hope the third smaller abscess would respond to the massive doses of IV antibiotics I would be given.

Dr. Brumble, Infectious Disease

Dr. Brumble, Infectious Disease

The protocol, determined by my infectious disease doc…Lisa Brumble, began. Serious antibiotics: Caspofungin, Ceftriaxone and Vancomycin were administered intravenously twice daily, Metronidazole (Flagyl) given orally once daily. Daily visits from my surgical team, nutritionist, physical therapists, and infectious disease doctor were glimpses of the seriousness of my condition. I remained hospitalized for 12 days then discharged to a home healthcare agency for 19 more days of twice daily visits to administer the hour long infusions, flush the drains and take my vitals.

To say I was weak would be an understatement. I was recovering from a 9 and 1/2 hour major resection of my digestive system, and now my body was fighting off critical infection. I had no appetite and the antibiotics made the taste of food even worse. My weight was plummeting.

Every night my sweet husband Tom, would sleep in the recliner next to my bed in the hospital. Many times he prayed out loud holding my hand, asking God to bring us through this. His comic relief was always welcome and normally produced a big smile. I wondered if I could love this man any more…and then I did. He encouraged me to eat and walk the hospital halls to give me strength. He was truly my “Joseph”.

Daily visits from our church priest, deacons and nuns could be counted on. Even the Priest from St. Paul’s visited when he could. They administered the sacrament of holy communion, breaking the host into the smallest piece to be sure I didn’t have a problem digesting it. They prayed over me and told me about my CHRP sisters who were always asking and praying for me. They encouraged my faith and assured me I was in God’s hands.

My closest friends visited daily bringing me flowers, rubbing my hands and feet with creams and enticing me with milk shakes and thoughtful non-fat meals that took huge effort to shop for, prepare and deliver. I truly felt God’s love for me in their tender and genuine care for me.

My dear friend Lynda Masulli lovingly prepared and delivered meals that adhered to my strict diet.

My dear friend Lynda Masulli lovingly prepared and delivered meals that adhered to my strict diet.

The final day in the hospital was an especially difficult one for me. It marked the one year anniversary of the death of my sweet friend, JT Townsend. Carmen, JT’s Mother, stayed with me the majority of the day until I was discharged. We talked about her son and what an amazing man he was. She reminded me JT was up in heaven as my intercessor, making certain I got everything I needed. We clung to one another as we recalled our favorite memories.

By June 24th, the antibiotics had done their work and a CT scan and blood work revealed the infections had diminished. I would be taken off the meds and could resume a more normal schedule. Tom had a brilliant idea. He would take me to Hilton Head Health for a ten day get away. The Docs agreed it would be a great RX! And we were off……..

My hero.....Tommy Z aka, JOSEPH

My hero…..Tommy Z aka, JOSEPH

Home at last....

Home at last….