Category Archives: My PC Journey

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 year Cancer Free

One year Cancer Free
Tommy, Judi and grandbaby No. 6 - Jude Matthew Garrity, our angel sent from God.

Tommy, Judi and grandbaby No. 6 – Jude Matthew Garrity, our angel sent from God.

Today I celebrate being cancer free for 12 months. Free from Pancreatic Cancer that lived in me for at least 15 years silently consuming my bodily cells and my life. If you receive a diagnosis of PC you have a 6 percent chance of living 5 years. To survive 1 year, you are in the 18%. So, on Friday, we celebrated life.

We are thankful to God for each new day. Tom and I both know the day is a gift. We live it as one trying to make the most out of being with our family and friends and we thank God every day for giving us this time together.

I am reading about survivors of PC who live 12 years, beating the odds. I am encouraged by the way I feel one year post Whipple surgery, chemo and radiation treatment. I think I might be one of those blessed to remain, to not be one of the gloomy statistics. And I wonder what God has in store for me. What task has He got for me to accomplish before it is my time. I pray every day for Him to send me a crystal clear message. When He is ready, I know He will. (His timing not ours.)

Living each day as if it were your last makes us all better people. The world would be a better place if we lived this way. Life is so uncertain. We all must realize this no matter if we are healthy or not. Cherish the moments you spend with your loved ones. Tell your friends what their being in your life means to you. Show someone an act of kindness every day.

Last week was The Players Championship week in Ponte Vedra Beach, one of the best weeks for all of us blessed enough to live here. On Friday evening my husband and I hosted a Celebration of Life party fundraiser benefitting the JT Townsend Foundation, which we began 7 years ago. The response to the invitation was tremendous. It means we can take something so horrific and change it into good. We can take the $55K raised at the party and help local disabled children and adults who cannot afford to buy adaptive equipment that would make their lives easier. What a great week it was.

I guess God had this in the plan, this fundraiser/party/celebration of life. It sure came together easily. He had the perfect people attending that He would have. He gave us the perfect weather and the perfect entertainment and food because it is not OUR plan. It is always His. Thank you Lord.

God is in control and whatever He has planned, Tom and I are good with it.

P.S. I had a lot of Thank you’s to make. I think it was the perfect opportunity. My last and biggest thank you always goes to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Thank you Rachel Winer for running  for me in the PVHS Run for Life race to fight Cancer.

Thank you Rachel Winer for running for me in the PVHS Run for Life race to fight Cancer.

Thank you for helping me make it one year cancer free

Thank you for helping me make it one year cancer free
Thank you to my daughter Lindsay. I would not be here without her protection, love and support.

Thank you to my daughter Lindsay. I would not be here without her protection, love and support.

To the countless friends and neighbors who prayed for me, sent inspiring cards and beautiful flowers and made visits to lift my spirits. To those who brought meals to feed my family during my hospital stays and when I was too weak to cook. Thank you.

To the Townsend Family for your prayers and your desire to take on the part of our
extended family. Thank you.

To Kelly Winer who stepped in and took over the job of running the JT Townsend Foundation when I didn’t have the strength. Thank you.

To my girlfriends who changed my sheets, cleaned my house, fed me, rubbed oil and cream on my feet and hands. Who sat with me as home health care gave me the twice daily four antibiotic IV’s that fought off my infection. Who talked to me every day to make sure I was ok or if I needed help. Thank you

To Robin and Les Passa who brought delicious meals, sent inspiring cards and brought me the many things I needed to be comfortable and showered me with love. Thank you.

To Lynda Masulli who brought meals she painstakingly prepared with no fat in the hospital and later at home so I would eat to regain my strength. Thank you

To Jack and Phyllis Garrity who have supported our two families with love and prayers and were always there to step in where we could not. Thank you

To Deacon Dan, Father Frank and Sister Joan, who each came to the hospital and my home for many months to administer the Eucharist to me in very tiny pieces when I couldn’t eat anything or had the strength to make it to church. To our parish family at OLSS for prayer. Thank you.

To my Sisters in Christ, Bible Study Groups, CRHP Sisters from OLSS who prayed for me during my 9½ hour surgery and continue to pray for me today. Thank you.

To the Warriors and Staff at Wounded Warrior Project who prayed for me, visited me in the hospital and sent blessings and gifts to show they were thinking of me. Also, for being such a great support to Lindsay during this time. Thank you.

To JT and my Mother in Law Peggy who are my intercessors in heaven who made sure the prayers were answered. Thank you.

To my Sister and Brother, Sisters In Laws and their children and grandchildren, my cousins for your love and support. Thank you.

To Grandpa Lugi who learned how to make coffee and drove me to chemo at Mayo and helped with the laundry, house chores and Baby Jude. Thank you

To my children and grandchildren – Scott, Blake, Taylor, Abby, Olivia and Tommy, Louis and Emily, and Evan for your daily texts, phone calls, visits, support and love. Thank you.

To my son in law Matthew who let me know he was always there and allowed Lindsay and his newborn son to spend as much time with me as possible. Thank you.

To Baby Jude without who’s inspiration I don’t think I would even be here. I love you.

To Lindsay, who was my protector and stayed at my side when I was the one who was supposed to be taking care of her after the birth of our angel Baby Jude, and continues to be by my side every minute of every day even from work. Thank you.

To the Mayo nursing, oncology and radiation staff, who helped me make it through surgery and treatment. You are truly angels here on earth all of you. Thank you.

To Doctor Horacio Asbun whom Tom and I both thank from the bottom of our hearts that you had the skill and the courage to perform the lifesaving and complicated Whipple Surgery on me. Thank you.

To Tom who is my Joseph, thank you for traveling this journey by my side. You slept in a chair next to my bed for 31 days. You helped me with things nobody should have to do and made jokes about it. You never missed an appointment or a treatment. You held me up. I love you beyond words and am so happy I took a chance on you 31 ½ years ago. I can never thank you enough.

And finally to God, for gracing me with being among the 18% who survive PC for more than 12 months. For the courage and the peace you give me every day to face this challenge. For the people you surround me with who show me YOUR love in many ways. Lord, I thank you for each and every day I am here on earth.

My "Joseph" husband Tommy who is my partner on this journey. Words could never ever describe my gratitude for what he has done for me for the last year.

My “Joseph” husband Tommy who is my partner on this journey. Words could never ever describe my gratitude for what he has done for me for the last year.

Scanxiety and handling a diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer

Scanxiety and handling a diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer

“Is my belly-button sort of going to the right ?” I asked my husband as I lifted my blouse to expose my distended stomach. “Yes it is, now lets go we are late.” We left the house headed to a PanCan.org – Purple Light Ceremony with some family and friends. We were secretly both anxious about the CT scan we were scheduled for early the next morning, our second scan since surgery in May.
2015 Purple Light -Charlotte-MV-97

Thank God for Pan Can Action Network and the affiliates located all over the US ready to support and inspire all of us with PC. The Purple Light Ceremony honors those who have “earned their purple wings” of PC and the caregivers and family of those left behind. They also honor the survivors who usually number just a few. The PanCan. volunteers are truly angels.

My Facebook friends on the Whipple Surgery Survivors page call it “scanxiety”. It is the awful feeling that begins the day you receive the appointment and steadily builds until you reach the date. Each lump or bump, each pain or ache raises the question, “Could it be cancer rearing its ugly head again?”

Being diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer is the worst possible thing that has ever happened to me. And yet, in some ways, I admit it has been the best thing that ever happened. So much good has come out of the situation for myself, my family and my friends that I can make that statement in truth.

One person has been introduced to me with PC that has survived 13 years. And that is a miracle. 13 years would not support statistics from the American Cancer Society survival rate for this cancer. He has truly beaten the odds. And he is my inspiration. I can be just like him….a long time survivor. I believe this and I pray for that. But, I still worry.

Each case of PC is different. This disease, that normally strikes after it is too late to treat, places an expiration date on your life. Not a precise one, but, it causes you to face your longevity head on. You could live a few weeks, a few months, a few years. But always the adjective “few” precedes the time.

The good that comes from this is that you can prepare. You cannot help but be thankful for each morning when the sun goes up and you are standing in your kitchen window, coffee cup in hand, admiring God’s handiwork. You look at your family members in an entirely different light. You see the good in them, and they are probably on their best behavior. You see more of them and you have deep conversations that you would never have had. Your friends go out of their way to offer and give assistance. They send beautiful cards expressing their concern and letting you know they are praying for you. Your church family visits you in the hospital and at home and confirms their support and prayers. My house is always filled with a bouquet of fresh flowers from a thoughtful friend. It is really very wonderful.

I was personally convinced the lumps and bumps in my tummy were new cancerous tumors. I lay on the hard bed of the CT machine filled with apprehension praying to God. I told Him I could accept His will whatever it was, but I really needed more time. I have some important things to do this year. Please let me get thru this scan with a good report.

Dr. Johnson, my Oncologist, rushed into the examining room with a smile on her face saying….”What a good report you have. Everything looks good.” She sat at her desk pulling up the scan on her monitor and explained the lumps were just hernias that had developed in the surgical area. “I can live with hernias…I love hernias” I laughed. I had to ask her to say it ….”So I am cancer free?” “Yes, you are cancer free.” she replied.

When we pulled into our driveway there were three smiley faces and one big purple flower balloon tied to the mailbox. I still don’t know who did that, but it sure made me feel good and it was an excellent way to tell neighbors we had a good report. Thank you to my secret friends whoever you are.

We are good for another three months. That takes us to June……just one month before our family trip to Italy.

Father God, thank you for the good news today, And, please let that June scan be good.

Psalm 91
I am still living under His angel wings. Maybe I never will move from there.
2015 Purple Light -Charlotte-MV-492015 Purple Light -Charlotte-MV-59

2015 Purple Light -Charlotte-MV-42

One month out from treatment.

One month out from treatment.

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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