'I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.'
- Maya Angelou
When you start having back pain, you turn to Google. You find all kinds of simple answers for the cause - likely you've strained something or overworked yourself, or in one scary little footnote you read that pain in a certain area could be a sign of cancer. But you dismiss it, because everyone around you dismisses it even if you bring it up directly. "Could this be cancer?" "No, it's not cancer..."
Considering that you've just come off birth control and started the 'life change' all women eventually go through you write off back pain and nausea as part of the transitions -- it's likely hormonal. But the weight loss was unexpected. It's weird - because it's always been a challenge to loose weight. Oh well, these pants finally fit! And you move on.
But the pain gets worse and is moving trough the abdomen and around the back. It hurts, and you've spoken to friends in the medical profession to get opinions. Thinking it's gal bladder or something, one night the pain is enough to send you to the ER. A CT reveals your gal bladder is fine, but you may have 'chronic pancreatitis' and should see a specialist. You're given a referral.
The specialist you see immediately orders an MRI, and before you can even speak to the doctor about results you have a digital copy of a report and photos in your inbox that reads "unresectable pancreatic cancer". This isn't real. The gastro doctor who was supposed to speak to you in a week suddenly moves his in person appointment up to a video call, and when connected, asks if you've seen the report - apologizing for doing this over video. You ask again, "Is this cancer?" Radiologists can be wrong, we need to double check. So a stat ultrasound is ordered, and a biopsy is taken during outpatient surgery at a cancer center. You see it for the first time. You're at a cancer center.
You wait for days, agonizing over possible outcomes and only sharing with immediate family and friends what's happening. And then the thing that only happens to other people happens to you. You are told you have inoperable pancreatic cancer.
What do you do?
What We Know, and the Plan
We decided to start sharing rather than hiding what we're up against. Like many of you, we've seen cancer before... with Melisa's mom, with her Dad, with my Uncle, Melisa's brother, Melisa's aunt, Melisa's best friend years ago, and so many other people we've known. Some of these folks have beat it (like one of Melisa's current nutritionists, and her brother), and others have not. But sadly cancer is familiar to us - or so we thought.
It's been a rough few months, and weeks of processing. But, now that we're faced with this - Melisa has her battle gear on: "we're not going to hide from it, and we're going to fight it."
The 'cure' for pancreatic cancer is removal. In Melisa's case, she has what is called "locally advanced, unresectable" or more commonly - Stage III, and unremovable. The reason it's unremovable is that the veins and arteries (that lead to the heart) are involved in the tumor. The tumor is in the middle of the pancreas. If it had been at the head, it may have been caught due to pain and jaundice as the liver may have been impacted. If it had been at the tail, we likely would not have caught it until it metastasized (Stage IV) and it was too late. So in the words of our Oncologist, if we can't remove it - chemo.
We have options for chemo, but due to Melisa's relative youth, her lack of any real pain right now, her health (she's never touched a drop of liquor, smoked, etc.) we have opt'd to go with the recommendation that we be aggressive about fighting this with multiple drugs and potentially a first course trial specifically targeting the pancreas. We've not made the final decision - but we'll start this week. We can always back off to 'lighter' forms of chemo, but we have only one chance at first course trials and Melisa is amped. We're going in hard against this evil. We know it, and there's no point waiting or second guessing.
Kick-off, and What We Need
We start this week, and will update on final decisions about treatments, outcomes of trail qualifications, etc. Again, the over whelming support we've received thus far is incredible, and everyone wants to know how they can help.
Believe it or not, just allowing us to talk about this is incredibly helpful.
Positive responses. We are focused on wins. There are tons of helpful articles on what to say to people who've been diagnosed - find them on Google.
Patience is appreciated, as is readiness. We absolutely will be calling on friends and family to help, but need to find our rhythm over the coming weeks. We don't know what we don't know.
Media recommendations are welcome - what are you watching? We have allot of streaming to do.
Funny gifs, texts, video messages, etc bring smiles and are appreciated.
Thoughts, wishes, prayers, good vibes, or whatever is your thing. All are appreciated.
Hoping this is helpful, I will post again and try to include thoughts from Melisa. We'll keep updates flowing as we can and appreciate you all.
We'll be at MD Anderson in Phoenix if you're curious, and will see how things go over the coming weeks. So far - they have been incredibly supportive and have built an amazing team for us to take this on.
Here we go...