Tag Archives: Mayo Clinic

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

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.

Putting on the MASK – Radiation

Putting on the MASK – Radiation
The "MASK"

The “MASK”

It looks rather like a coat of armor when you see it for the first time. It is really just a plastic mesh that is softened during what is called your “assimilation” appointment. They form it to your body at the radiation site.

If you have cancer in your head, they form a head mask! That is really much cooler than the torso I think. You could maybe do something with that mask like create some piece of art to hang on the wall. Mine looks like something worn by a super hero, or maybe a gladiator.

On the morning of my 28th and final radiation treatment the girls asked me if I wanted to take my mask with me or if they should throw it away. For some odd reason I felt like I needed to take the mask with me, like it were part of my journey. I couldn’t think of having it thrown in some random hospital trash bin. It was such a big part of my life for the past 28 treatments. So I brought it home in one of those hospital plastic bags that reads….”personal belongings”.

Each morning when I arrived for my treatment I would lay on the radiation table and place my hands above my head grabbing two metal handles. Under my knees, the kind and gentle radiation techs would place a wedge and then they would strap my feet together so they could not move. They would wrap me in a warm white blanket from the top of my legs down, then place the mask over my torso and turn my body ever so slightly with their cold hands until the makers that were tattooed on my stomach matched up to the markers on my mask. (They always apologized for their hands being cold!)

It felt as if I were completely restrained as they sipped the locks on my mask into the table. I thought to myself, if I gained more than a few pounds, they would have trouble getting this to lock, but of course that was not an issue these days. I could not move an inch.

The techs would exit the room asking me if I was OK. They would shoot an X-ray to be certain my organs were in the perfect position to receive radiation. Some days a slight correction would be required and they did this remotely. The table would move a touch until I was in target range.

Once I was in position, the radiation machine would orbit the table twice. There was no sound. A large sign the shape of an EXIT sign, reading “BEAM ON” filled the darkened room with a red glow. It reminded me of something from Star Trek….like “Beam me up Scotty” or something. But I am sure it is just a warning to anyone entering the room.

There was no pain at all. And the only physical effects were some “browning” of my skin and a little swelling and tenderness of the organs internally. While laying there I would tell Jesus thank you for another day of life and another step to my healing while I laid there for approximately 5 minutes listening to Pandora’s “French Cafe” by personal request. (The girls did say I was the only one with that channel choice.)

Then, after the treatment the lights would turn on and into the room they would march taking position on either side of the table releasing the mask and removing the blanket and strap. I was helped to my feet and escorted out of the room.

This day I left with my mask in hand. It was a bittersweet moment, leaving the girls who had helped me kick PC cancers butt. They hugged me and told me they wanted to run into me on the highway jogging, but certainly not back here again. I agreed.

So, my mask and I are still not sure of how we feel about each other. I cannot think of any creative way to make it into something useful, unless Tommy wears it as part of a Halloween costume. Maybe I am a hoarder at heart, but I just can’t throw it away.

Treatment….

Treatment….

You are now cancer free”, declared Dr. Asbun with a huge smile on his face. “The surgical team has done our part and now the rest is up to you.”

World Famous Mayo Clinic - Jacksonville, Florida

World Famous Mayo Clinic – Jacksonville, Florida

We truly believe our mind and body work together in the healing process. We also believe our faith plays the most important role of maintaining our positive attitude and hope for total cure. Surgeons can remove the deadly cells but they cannot control the patients mind. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to surround the patient with positive support and continuous prayer for strength and continued hope.

The conversation usually always gets around to DX with radiation and chemo patients surrounding us. Tom, my Joseph is usually the one by my side in waiting rooms or comfy reclining chemo lounge chairs. When I share my diagnosis of pancreatic cancer or adenocarcinoma to the medically informed, they are not sure what to say next. 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%. I happened to be one of the blessed who’s tumors were operable. Whipple Surgery was scheduled within two weeks of my diagnosis.

There is a definitive protocol for PC and as you can well imagine, the timeline is tight. Whipple resection done laparoscopically is a relatively new procedure. (God certainly knew what He was doing when he moved us 15 minutes away from Mayo Clinic 20 years ago, one of the few surgical teams who perform this surgery laparoscopically.) And, recovery is greatly reduced from the more common “stem to stern” incision which requires a much longer hospital stay and extensive healing from the outside as well as the inside.

Whipple was performed on May 12th, 2014. I was discharged just 5 days post surgery. Recovery was going very well and I was able to be closer to our new Grandson, born May 5th, Jude Garrity. You talk about a reason to live! What a wonderful carrot God provided. And, I must not forget to mention all of my family and friends who surrounded me with support, meals, flowers, cards and most importantly prayers from all over the globe! I would go home on a no fat diet and begin chemo therapy treatment in six weeks.

Suddenly, things took a turn for the worst. 8 days later, I was rushed to the Mayo ER with a fever of 100.4. While this doesn’t sound like much of a fever, my body was telling us something was wrong. I was dehydrated and feeling very lethargic. Tests were completed and it was determined I had three areas of abscess in the surgical site. One was very large. I was admitted and placed on four antibiotics and drains were placed to remove the abscess fluids. I remained in the hospital for 11 days. June 5th I was discharged to home health care for 19 days for twice dailyIV antibiotics and close monitoring. My weight continued to plummet. My appetite was non existent and the food tasted nothing like it was supposed to. This was the most difficult time of my illness. However, the antibiotics did their job 30 days later (June 24th, 2014) I was discharged from home health and off antibiotics. Tom and I took a much needed trip to Hilton Head Health where they prepared non fat meals for me and encouraged me to walk and gain my strength.

On July 11th I began my first chemo treatment…Gemcitabine. The schedule, three Fridays for infusion and one Friday off. August 11th, just one month later, I began my Radiation and 5FU therapy. This consisted of 28 radiation treatments performed Monday thru Friday and the placement of a chemo pump which slowly infused 5FU (Fluorouracil)24/7.

Radiation therapy is actually pretty incredible. Each morning I would arrive at Mayo around 8AM and by 8:15 I was changed and laying on the radiation table hands above my head and my chemo pump resting above my hands. Permanent markers were tattooed on my torso where the radiation needed to penetrate. A special “mask” had been made, a mold really, of my torso which would enable the techs to position me in such a way the radiation would reach the organs of my surgical site. I would be placed on the table, the mask over me and locked into the table. Next the techs would leave the room and take an Xray to determine I was in the exact position I needed to be. Sometimes they would reposition the table remotely. Then the Radiation would begin, a large round scope would circle my entire torso twice quite slowly. I never felt anything and pretty much relaxed while I listened to my favorite Pandora station “French Cafe”. The entire process took maybe 15 minutes. Oh and the techs are angels. Some mornings when I was feeling under the weather they would wrap my legs in a warm blanket and make sure I was comfortable.

I opted to have a Bard Power Port inserted just below my collar bone to carry medicine into my bloodstream and to also allow one easy access for blood-draws. The port is placed below the skin and is about the size of a quarter. It is attached to a small catheter which is placed inside one of the central veins that take blood to your heart. When a special needle is put into the ports’ septum, it creates access to your bloodstream.

The port enabled me to carry my chemo pump with me.

Here I am sporting my new Chemo Pump.....

Here I am sporting my new Chemo Pump…..

I was blessed to not have many of the side effects that accompany chemotherapy. While I do live with nausea and fatigue, both are controlled with Creon, Reglan which I take three or four times daily as needed. And I have not had any hair loss! (Thank you Jesus)

At this point, I have one more radiation treatment scheduled for Monday, September 15th, 2014. I will have four weeks off of radiation and chemo to allow the chemo and effects of the radiation to leave my body. On October 15th, I will resume the “Gemzar” chemotherapy protocol of three Friday infusions one Friday off for three months. My last chemo treatment will be Christmas Eve!

I think I will celebrate being cancer and treatment free with a nice glass of Caymus Special Select, my first since April!

God is so good!

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….

Jude’s Dudes and more…..God’s Love

Jude’s Dudes and more…..God’s Love

The support we have seen from family, friends and even strangers is mind blowing! Sunday before surgery, the Jude’s Dudes group left The Players Championship final round to come to Mayo and show their support. We had 42 Dudes’ show up! Fr. Frank was making his daily visit to my hospital room when everyone showed up. He could not believe it! They wore their shirts on “pink out” day at the tournament to show support for our family. This truly touched our hearts.

Our support group Jude's Dudes....family and friends.

Our support group Jude’s Dudes….family and friends.


More information: http://www.pgatour.com/news/2014/05/11/Outside-the-ropes-players.html
From WWP: Thank you everyone for wearing your purple today to show your support for everyone who has been affected by Pancreatic Cancer. We hope that those who have personally been affected know that they have teammates who truly care and love them. Like Adam Silva, WWP

From WWP:
Thank you everyone for wearing your purple today to show your support for everyone who has been affected by Pancreatic Cancer. We hope that those who have personally been affected know that they have teammates who truly care and love them.
Like
Adam Silva, WWP

WWP Director, Adam Silva stopped by our hospital room a few days post surgery to tell us WWP is showing it’s support by wearing their purple shirts each Friday. They also sent flowers and had a special bracelet made for me with charms for PC, WWP and Hope. Lindsay’s Marketing Team filled a clear jug with pieces of purple and silver paper with prayers and wishes to us as we endure this trial. We love our WWP family.

In October, 2013 I attended a life-changing retreat at our Church…Our Lady Star of the Sea. This weekend is called “Christ Renews His Parish” CHRP for short. We quickly formed a strong bond with the attendees and the sisters who put on the weekend. When they heard about my diagnosis they gathered the day of my surgery after morning mass to pray the rosary. It is wonderful to have a church family.

My Christ Renews His Parish Sisters from the October, 2013 Retreat. These girls

My Christ Renews His Parish Sisters from the October, 2013 Retreat. These girls

My Bible Study group organized a prayer vigil of about 30 girls. They all came together to pray the morning of my surgery. Some of my Bible Study girls have been meeting for over 15 years. I am thankful for each one of them. We pray each other up through every trial and blessing that befalls our sisters. They are Godly women who know the power of prayer. I know when we ask them to pray they are faithful. They are my “prayer warriors” and I love each and every one of them.

Many of my friends told me they lit a candle for me as they visited churches all over the world!

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

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

Many other friends, business associates and family prayed and asked their prayer warriors to pray as well. I know that God heard those prayers and answered them that day.

Family members dropped by the hospital.

My Grand Nephews, Tate, Isaiah and Mac popped in to visit Aunt Judi

My Grand Nephews, Tate, Isaiah and Mac popped in to visit Aunt Judi

My Grand-daughter Taylor graduated from Ponte Vedra High School while I was recovering in the hospital. I watched the graduation live from my daughter in laws cell phone. After the ceremony, Taylor came to the hospital to get her kiss from her Grandma! I was so happy to see her in her cap and gown and give her that big congratulatory hug and kiss.

Taylor's Graduation surprise

Taylor’s Graduation surprise


Once we came home from the hospital the love continued. Two of my friends planted bright and colorful flowers and huge balloons on the mailbox to greet me when I drove in.

Our family was not accustomed to being on the receiving end of this generosity of giving. Complete meals arrived each day. Through the help of my sweet daughter Lindsay, a “Caring Bridge” site was organized and meals were planned. It was amazing.

God showed me His love for me through each set of hands that prepared a meal, rubbed my feet with lotion, changed our bedsheets and ran the vacuum! All of these tasks done with love by my angel friends. Thank you all!

Monday, May 12th…the surgery

Monday, May 12th…the surgery

psalm-91_1

“Father, I dwell in Your secret place. I say of you that You are my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust. Surely, You will deliver me from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. You will cover me with Your feathers, and under Your wings I will find refuge. Your faithfulness will be my shield and rampart. I will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at my side, ten thousand at my right hand, but it will not come near me. I will only observe with my eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. As I make the Most High my dwelling – even the LORD, who is my refuge – then no harm will befall me; no disaster, plague, calamity will come near my home for You have given Your angels charge over me to keep, defend and preserve me in all of my ways; they will lift me up in their hands, so that I will not strike my foot against a stone. I will tread upon the lion and the cobra; I will trample the great lion and the serpent. Father, You said that because I love You, You will rescue me; You will protect me, for I acknowledge Your name. I call upon You, and You answer me; You are with me in trouble, You deliver me and honor me. With long life will You satisfy me and show me Your salvation.” Psalm 91

A friend visited me the day before I entered the hospital and shared this powerful Psalm with me. She is a cancer survivor and told me she personally read this comforting Psalm as she battled breast cancer surgery and treatment. I will be forever thankful for this gift.

As they were preparing me for surgery early Monday morning, Tom prayed with me beside my bed. We had both read the Psalm together at home. I told him I would ask God to cover me with His feathers and under His wings I would stay until the surgery was over. He kissed me and I was taken back to the OR.

The surgery lasted 9 and 1/2 hours. While I do not know what it was like to sit in the waiting room or even all of the family and friends who sat there in support of my immediate family, I am so very thankful for each and every one of them.

As I was coming out of the anesthesia, I felt as if I were wrapped in some sort of cocoon. I could not see immediately, but I asked aloud, “Am I in heaven?” Tom replied..”No, you are right here with me!” My answer…..”PRAISE GOD!” as I extended my hand to the Lord.

It seemed a short time before our surgical team surrounded my bed. “We have great news”. Said Dr. Asbun. “You are the reason I do what I do.” “You made the correct decision to proceed with surgery. We have removed the cancer and you are at this moment….cancer free.” ” I have done my part…now the next step is up to you.”

God had been faithful…He had heard the prayers offered on my behalf. God is my refuge and my comfort and my protector, just as He promises.

He is YOURS too!

The surgical consult….

The surgical consult….

The week before surgery was surreal. Our new little “Jude” came home from the hospital, The 2014 Players Championship was literally being held in our backyard, my Father in law – Lugi was visiting as he always did for the tournament and of course for the birth of his fifth Great-Grandchild, and our neighbors and friends were curious to see the completed backyard renovation that had caused the dumpster and porta-potty to be displayed in our front yard since October 2013. Add to that the sudden announcement that I had a very serious diagnosis..people were curious.

The effects of the cancer were beginning to zap my energy. I began to jaundice. The rapid 20 pound weight loss was clearly evident. I wanted to make this last week before surgery a celebration. Late in the week the surgeon had scheduled the placement of a JP drain to relieve me of some of the bile that was blocked from the bile duct and streaming into my system causing the jaundice, the itching and scratching. But by the weekend, I developed a fever and late Saturday night we made a trip to Mayo’s ER. I was very weak and nauseated. They decided to admit me and keep me on an IV until the surgery Monday. In retrospect, this was the best decision as I doubt I would have been strong enough for surgery without the fluids. I needed to build my strength for the huge surgery that lied ahead.

Dr. Horacio Asbun, my hero!

Dr. Horacio Asbun, my hero!


Thursday we had a pre-op visit with the surgical team. My team and several other surgeons had been meeting to discuss my case. They had read over 1500 images from my MRI and were diligently planning their attack on the tumor and surrounding cells. Some of the lymph nodes were lit up in the pancreas and kidneys. They would remove any suspect lymph nodes during surgery. All of the tumor and surrounding tissue would be removed until the margins surrounding the tissues showed cancer free. The tumor in the pancreas head measured roughly 3.5cm. They were confident the Whipple surgery would be a success. They also informed us of the most dangerous effects the surgery could have on me; excessive loss of blood requiring transfusion, infection, etc.etc. We left the appointment prepared to take the next and most important step in our battle against this demon.

Shortly after we left the hospital, we received a phone call asking us to return to the hospital. The surgical team wanted to discuss something further.

When we arrived they told us one of the surgeons had viewed an image from the MRI that showed something disturbing. Part of the tumor appeared attached to the biliary artery. Removal of the tumor would be very risky. Dr. Asbun said he had an obligation to tell us about this find and to offer some options. One would be to undergo adjunct chemo therapy to possibly reduce the size of the tumor. This would of course delay the surgery and really did not have any guarantees. If he went ahead with surgery he could excise the tumor and place a stint in the artery replacing the effected section. It was difficult, but he assured me he was not afraid and he could do it.

He told me I was the only one who could make the decision. Tom and I looked at each other, another punch in the gut. But, we had our faith. We were going to make it thru this. We were going to be one of the 20 percent that the cancer did not return. We believed this and we had prayer warriors who believed this too. I felt God was telling me to proceed, to remove the cancer from my body. I asked Dr. Asbun what he would do if I were his sister. He told me he would go with the surgery now. That was what I felt too. “Let’s get the cancer out as soon as possible.” I said. We were on for Monday.

Unknown

Whipple surgery is basically the removal of the portion of the pancreas effected by the tumor,(in my case, the head of the pancreas), the gall bladder and the small intestine. The diagram illustrates the resections.Since my cancer was located in the head only, I would not be required to live on insulin. I am blessed to have a surgeon who performs this procedure laparoscopically. Normally an incision would begin below the breastbone and down the entire stomach. Recovery for my surgery would be much more speedy than open surgery. I was confident I was in good hands. Plus, I had an army of friends, bible study Sisters-In-Christ, CHRP Sisters from our church and family who were praying for me constantly. God would surely hear those prayers and I knew He would bring me through.

The Diagnosis…..

The Diagnosis…..

Tomm & Judi at Kylies WEddingTom was seated on the sofa as I sat perched on the paper-covered table. The 30 something, very sweet, Sports Medicine Doctor shared my report displayed on the large computer screen. “There is a mass in your pancreas,” she said very cautiously not wanting our eyes to meet. Tom leapt from the sofa to my side on the table as we both tried to absorb the words. My first reaction…”Can you live without a pancreas?, recalling Pancreatic Cancer to be the most deadly form of cancer. “Yes, you can today, with the proper medication.” She continued to relay the medical facts that had been compiled in the short 24 hours since I had met with her. She read the blood test results showing elevated pancreatic enzymes, “…..Lipase, Serum 661, desired level should be between 7 and 60.” “I have scheduled an appointment for tomorrow with a general surgeon who specializes in this area,” she said. We clung in disbelief holding each other as the doctor wept with us. We prayed to God on the way home that He would give us the strength to weather this storm. We gathered our immediate family and told them everything we knew.

I loved to work out. Well, I longed to be in shape. Menopause and gravity had added about 30 pounds to my medium frame over the years. It seemed like each decade added 10 pounds. So, this kept me walking in the mornings, biking and being active. When my best friend’s daughter was planning her wedding we even went to a personal trainer. However, the impact on my 60 year old bones was too much. I began to suffer extreme knee pain. After a visit to an orthopedic surgeon he recommended he repair a meniscal tear. The surgery was performed January 15th. He kept me off my knee for 6 weeks. Once the knee was healed he released me to normal physical activities. Excited to be back in the gym, the pain returned. I was popping 800 mg ibuprofen twice a day to control the pain. Never having taken any type of pain control, I was reluctant to continue, but the pain was significant. I had read the side effects and wondered about the effect on my liver and kidneys. A few months later I stopped the meds.

The pain continued and I felt sick to my stomach most of the time. I suppressed the urge to throw up. All of a sudden I noticed I had lost weight without really trying. I was avoiding eating and when I did eat it was a small portion. I couldn’t even drink wine! Something must be wrong.

One day I noticed my urine seemed extremely dark. I had started to itch. My body was covered with small red scabs where I had scratched my skin raw. In my mind I felt it was related to the medications and the nausea was caused by the pain. It was time to go to the doctor to find out was was going on.

Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville is located 15 minutes from our home. A dear friend suggested I make an appointment at the Primary Care facility. Mayo is approved by our insurance and they certainly have a wonderful reputation. Monday morning I called for an appointment. After explaining my symptoms, the nurse suggested I see the sports medicine doctor and she happened to be available that afternoon. God was once again behind all of this!

When I arrived for the appointment I explained everything to the doctor. She decided to have blood work and a stool and urine sample. I was escorted into the lab where the samples were drawn. The next morning the nurse called to tell me I needed to come in for a sonogram that afternoon. What could be happening?

As the tech lathered my stomach with gel and guided the probe while watching the monitor intently, I noticed her focusing on one area. She was marking the spot with a red arrow drawing a line from one end to the other. A measurement? I asked her what that was. She began to probe different areas and showed me my kidneys, liver and pancreas. I asked her about the arrows. She said the Radiologist would review the scan and report to my doctor the results. I knew that would be her canned response, but I wanted her to say something more definitive. I sensed something was not right.

We were very familiar with this disease. When Tom and I first met, he lived with his aunt and uncle directly across the street from me. Shortly after we were married, Frank was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was 36 when he died just 18 months after receiving the report. We had read the statistics and knew what we were facing.

The next few days were a flurry of consults with the surgical team, blood tests, CT scans and MRIs. The doctors held nothing back. While they shared the worst case scenario, they also encouraged us with the positives. I had no previous serious medical issues. They marveled how at 64 I was not on any prescription medications. With the exception of exercise related problems with knees and ankles, I was in very good physical condition.

We quickly realized God had provided the perfect medical team at a world renowned hospital. Our Mayo Clinic surgeon, Dr. Horatio Asbun, specializes in pancreatic surgery. He is the best in the country. His team was equally impressive. He would perform whipple surgery laparoscopically, removing my small intestine, gallbladder and the head of my pancreas where the tumor had taken hold. He told me he could do his job and remove the tumor from my pancreas. And, he believed I had the ability to do my part. He said I had a strong faith in God and a positive attitude.That was 90% of what was needed to make the surgery successful. We were all a team and we would don our armor and enter this battle together. Most importantly, he asked his surgical team to pray for me between the meeting and the surgery date. We were confident God had placed us in good hands.

We are blessed with a strong faith in God. Tom and I knew we would get thru this and there was a reason why this was happening. Tom began to attend morning mass daily. I attended with him and we advised our Church family about the diagnosis. They immediately called to action. Fr. Frank administered the anointing of the sick. We could face the outcome no matter what it was.My CHRP Sisters and my Bible Study group organized prayer vigils for the surgery date. Our amazingly close family would also use their faith to pull through and we would do it together.