Tag Archives: pancreatic cancer

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.”

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.

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.

The second happiest day of my life…..

The second happiest day of my life…..
November 27th, 2014 Our Catholic Wedding Ceremony

November 27th, 2014 Our Catholic Wedding Ceremony

On Friday, the 4th of August, 1983 I married the love of my life in Clearwater, Florida. Rev. Comer of the Clearwater First Methodist Church presided over the ceremony. My dear friend and co-worker Susan Miles attended this church and suggested it for our ceremony since we were not able to be married in the Catholic church because I had been divorced.

For 31 years I attended mass and took communion against Catholic doctrine. My children were all raised Catholic and received all sacraments on time. I love the tradition of the Roman Catholic religion and felt as Catholic as the person sitting next to me until it was time for communion. When I would approach the priest, I would hold my hands out to receive the host and say “amen” just like everyone before and after me….but I felt the priest had to know that I was living a lie. I was NOT the dutiful Catholic I pretended to be. I felt guilty and ashamed and alienated.

In October, 2013 I attended a retreat at our parish called Christ Renews His Parish or CRHP pronounced “chirp” by past attendees. The weekend was life changing for me. The most important revelation was that I had been Catholic since my Grandmother had baptized me when I was 6 weeks old.

After the weekend, with the help of Deacon Dan Scrone, I navigated the required paperwork and became a legal Roman Catholic. All my sacraments were validated and I was a true Roman Catholic.

My dream was to be married in the Catholic Church so that when I received holy communion, I could do so with the same pride and intent as every other Catholic.

God was certainly busy putting all the desires of my heart into action before I was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer in April, 2015. I thank Him every day for placing my church family deeply into my heart. Their prayers and support during the difficult time ahead after that CRHP weekend would be invaluable.

Thank you my sweet Jesus!

It's official.....

It’s official…..

Our happy family

Our happy family

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!