IN IT TOGETHER
Imagine if we could unite the planet in support of a common goal. That’s the idea behind World Pancreatic Cancer Day.
November 17, 2016, is a day we will unite and make our voices heard. In the battle against pancreatic cancer we will show the world we are #InItTogether.
According to a worldwide survey, sixty percent of people know “almost NOTHING” about pancreatic cancer. It’s time to elevate the global conversation and draw attention to pancreatic cancer and the need for greater awareness.
By showing the world we are in this fight together, we hope to save lives and create a brighter future for people around the globe.
It’s a scary word. The big “C” word. It’s even scarier when it’s accompanied by the word “pancreatic.” I had rushed home from work, knowing that Mum was having tests that Tuesday. My parents walked in. “Girls, it’s not good,” Dad’s voice shook.
We saw the gastroenterologist together. My mum apologised to him for having to break that kind of news to someone’s family. Because that’s just the person my mum is – she has cancer, and she says sorry.
Mum underwent a dozen cycles of chemotherapy and one course of radiation therapy. Through it al, I worked – five days a week. My role was to get up and head to work, giving Mum a smile and a kiss as I left the house. It was important for Mum’s emotional and mental state that I brought a sense of normalcy. But what I was going through was so far removed from normal. It definitely took its toll.
When my husband proposed to me, my mother and I both burst into tears with the realisation that she would be with me as I walked down the aisle – a very realistic fear that we both had been struggling with. The hardest thing I had to hear through the whole planning process was, “Do you think we need to move the wedding?” I don’t think I’d been in denial, but Mum had been doing so well in the lead-up that I put my blinders on and never even considered this as a possibility.
Mum did exceptionally well on the wedding day. She was the most beautiful person in that room. She was radiant and magnificent. And despite the pain she felt all day, she never stopped smiling. And true to form, she was on the dance floor all night.
The year 2014 will always be the year I got married. But it will also always be the year I lost my best friend, my rock, my protector and my idol. And to have to see those side by side breaks my heart. As a child, there comes a point in your life when you become the caregiver. It’s never meant to happen at age 27. At 27, you’re not meant to be rushing your mother to the emergency room. At 27, you’re not meant to be imagining how the hell you’re going to raise your children without your greatest teacher by your side.
Every day, I take comfort in knowing that when I was speaking to her in those final moments, she was squeezing my hand. I know that she heard me. I know that she is with me as I navigate my first years of marriage, as I make my new house a home, and as I figure out my career choices. And I know that she will be with me as I learn how to be a mother. I know this because I am the person I am today because of her.
At 6 p.m. on October 20, 2014 (exactly one week before by 44th birthday), I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This followed a period where I had experienced some odd symptoms: itchy skin, dark urine, loss of appetite and finally turning the colour of a Bart Simpson (or maybe Homer is more appropriate!). It turns out that I was very lucky to have these symptoms, as a tumour had developed in the head of my pancreas. This meant that the tumour was caught early. I had a stent put in place and the jaundice relieved, and on November 12, I had a Whipple procedure to remove the tumour.
I am now having six months of chemotherapy, to be followed by radiotherapy to try and keep further tumours at bay! I have enjoyed incredible support from my wife, children and wider family. Also from friends, my company and colleagues. I feel lucky and privileged to have them around me, and I am very positive for the future.
Since diagnosis, I have also raised just short of £9,000 for cancer research directly, and other people around me have also raised funds on my behalf. There needs to be more awareness and research for this mostly deadly disease, as most sufferers are not afforded the same levels of hope that I am fortunate enough to be enjoying!
The sad reality as a surgeon is that you realise only a small number of patients with pancreatic cancer ever come to surgery. Most have cancer that has spread or locally inoperable cancer at presentation. Even in those who come to surgery and have their tumours removed, the vast majority will die from disease recurrence.
It is still important to have hope and provide every patient with the possibility of surgical care when it is technically possible, no matter how difficult the operation. We do get long-term survivors, which as a surgeon gives you hope. Sometimes the long-term survivor can be the most unexpected case.
Why some patients do well, whilst the majority do so poorly, raises many research questions. As a surgeon researcher, I see opportunities through research to make even a far greater impact on patient care and survival than the impact I provide the individual.
Research into pancreatic cancer is, however, generally poorly funded compared with many other cancers. Providing a salary to attract talented researchers to work as a team focused on pancreatic cancer seems to be an ongoing struggle.
To make a difference in the outcomes of pancreatic cancer, it is important to work as a team and collaborate. Teamwork divides the workload but at the same time can multiply the results. Encouraging talented researchers to focus on pancreatic cancer research by providing adequate funding remains a major challenge, but a challenge that the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition appears well-equipped to handle.
In 2010, Kelly’s New Year’s resolution was to run a half marathon. Two weeks into January, she felt a severe sharp pain on her left side. Seeking medical attention, an ultrasound revealed a growth on her pancreas.
The months that followed brought extensive tests: CT scan, MRI, blood work and a referral to a surgeon. On May 5, Kelly met with Dr. Mark Walsh to receive the diagnosis and discuss treatment options. The tests revealed a Solid and Papillary Epithelial Neoplasm of the pancreas, a rare type of cancer that typically affects young women without significant clinical symptoms.
Kelly completed her half marathon on May 23, and two days later spent 6½ hours in surgery while doctors conducted a “Whipple procedure,” what some physicians cite as the only current cure for pancreatic cancer. This invasive surgery removes several surrounding organs and parts of the pancreas and stomach. The operation meant that she would have to train her digestive system all over again, one food group at a time.
Since her surgery, Kelly has made a full recovery. In March 2012 she welcomed her beautiful son, Patrick, into this world, and in January 2015, she completed the 42K Disney full marathon during Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend to raise money for Craig’s Cause. Kelly beat the odds and knows how blessed she is to have done so.