“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.”
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.
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!