There are certain moments that you will always remember in your life: your first kiss, your wedding day, the birth of your children. I can add to that otherwise happy list the moment I heard the words “Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma”. November 18 is the day I had surgery one year ago for what turned out to be Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma. I went into the surgery thinking that I had a precancerous lesion. I did, but there was also cancer present. This past year has been an amazing journey.
I remember seeing my primary care doctor and being told I needed some additional testing. I remember the moment when he got the report from my CT scan and we went from laughing and joking to a very sobering conversation. I remember feeling like the air had just left the room. I remember thinking that my then 10-year-old daughter Peyton was in the waiting room and we were headed to a high school cross country meet. I remember wondering how in the world I was going to pretend that everything was good around my children.
I remember calling my husband at work and saying, “Do you have a minute?” He knew instantly that something was wrong. I remember going into a state of denial, and feeling convinced that I was completely fine. I remember texting my friend who is a PA and asking her if it was really necessary that I get a follow up MRI. I remember her telling me that yes, I had to go and that often these things were “nothing” but sometimes they are something.
I remember expecting the MRI to be fine, but finding out that it was not. I remember going in for the Endocscopic Ultrasound (EUS). I remember the warm and funny nurse who tended to me. I remember being in the operating room waiting for the procedure and talking the nurses into looking up the Screaming Goat video on Youtube, because it made me laugh. I remember the doctor walking in and not looking amused.
I remember waking up and being told that the doctor thought the lesion was pre-malignant, but that it needed to come out as soon as possible because it was showing “worrisome features”. I remember being terrified thinking about the major surgery coming up. I remember reading about the high rate of complications with pancreatic surgeries, and wondering if I would come out of surgery alive, let alone if I would able to run, take care of my family or work.
I remember the somber drive down to the hospital on the morning of November 18, 2013. I remember trying to joke with the nurses to mask how terrified I was feeling. I remember waking up in the recovery room and staying there for hours because there was no hospital room available for me. I remember finally getting to a room and being hooked up to an epidural for pain, a catheter because I could not get out of bed, leg sleeves to prevent blood clots, an oxygen tank and numerous other wires. I remember spending days in the hospital. I remember seeing my scar and having my surgeon tell me that he had sewed me up in that particular fashion in case he had to go back in.
I remember first hearing the words “Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma” from my surgeon on November 22, 2013. I remember having to tell my husband that I had Pancreatic Cancer. I remember that it was also my father’s birthday, and I had to call him and tell him the news. I remember not knowing a whole lot about Pancreatic Cancer. I remember googling it for the first time and being absolutely astounded by the abysmal survival rates. I remember how surreal it all felt. I remember thinking this was not my body or my life.
I remember pulling each of my daughters aside and breaking the news to them that I had, in fact, had cancer. I remember feeling like I had betrayed them. How could I get sick and shake their sense of security? I remember wishing I never had to have those conversations but that I had promised my kids I would always be honest with them.
I remember how my relationship with my husband changed over night. We went from being loving but not overly demonstrative to laying awake curled up together night after night, seeking solace and comfort and intimacy. I remember thinking that maybe if we could just hold each other tightly forever, we would be feel safe and confident again.
I remember walking hunched over like an elderly woman because it hurt to stand up straight and stretch my incision. I remember those first extremely slow walks around the neighborhood, first with my husband, then with my parents and daughters, and finally with the friends who came to walk with me. I remember feeling so grateful to have people willing to walk with me now that I could no longer run. I remember friends bringing meals and gifts and books. I remember not being able to focus long enough to finish a book, whereas before my surgery I would read at least one per week.
I remember telling a friend, “I know what is going to kill me now.”
I remember seeing my oncologist for the first time and discussing treatment options. I remember deciding to do chemotherapy. I remember telling my mom and her breaking down in tears. I remember feeling terrible about that conversation because it broke my heart to make my mother cry.
I remember when my parents went back to NY. I remember thinking that I knew we all had to get back to our lives, but I did not want to let either of them go.
I remember counting down the days until I could run, and I remember that first painful and yet blissful run I took with my husband, just shy of a month post-op.
I remember running every day even though it hurt after a month layoff, because I did not know how much running I would be able to do during chemotherapy. I remember feeling so incredibly grateful that I could run at all. I remember thinking I had to be as physically strong as possible before I started my next round of treatments.
I remember getting my chemotherapy port installed and how much it hurt the first couple of weeks.
I remember being very afraid the night before chemotherapy started. I remember the nurse telling me not to be surprised if I did not make it through the first cycle without a delay in treatment due to my blood levels being off. I ended up never missing a treatment.
I remember taking a chemo selfie with Riley.
I remember being nauseous. I remember losing a lot of my hair. I remember being exhausted all of the time. I remember having pain in my limbs. I remember having to go to the Emergency Room because I was sick. I remember setting a goal of running at least two times per week. I ended up missing only five days over the entire six months of treatment. I remember running the Super Half Marathon with Debby.
I remember running the Greenland Trail 25K with Steve.
I remember how my husband never missed going to a chemo appointment with me.
I remember that final 18th round of chemotherapy, and coming home to a decorated house.
I remember my friendships deepening with long time friends. I remember making new friendships and being amazed by how kind and generous people were towards me. I remember all of the people who were willing to run slowly with me.
I remember watching my scar heal.
I remember finally getting my chemo port removed.
I remember my kids feeling anxious, stressed and angry. I also remember lots of long, thoughtful conversations and how much I loved just spending time at home with them. I remember learning a lot along the way. I remember feeling mentally calm and focused because I just wanted to live and enjoy each day. I remember going from thinking I may not see my kids grow up to thinking that there were so many positive things that had come out of my diagnosis. I remember being grateful for every day, for the opportunity to run, and to spend time with people I loved. I remember thinking that my perspective on so many things had changed and I hoped that I would never take a day or for granted or worry about insignificant things again. I remember re-evaluating everything in my life, and how I learned to cut back and streamline my obligations. I remember thinking that I would only choose to do things that were truly important to me. I remember thinking that as long as the cancer did not return and kill me, maybe this would ultimately be a positive experience for all of us.
There is so much I could write about this last year. These are the moments that are etched in my mind. I have survived for a whole year, which 75-80% of Pancreatic Cancer patients do not. I am incredibly lucky. I hope I always remember all that we have been through this last year, the good and the bad. I hope the lessons always stay with us. I remember feeling better and not wanting to forget, but starting to move forward.