Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Pancreatic Cancer Hits Hollywood and Home For Me

I was always a big fan of Patrick Swayze. Dirty Dancing was one of my fav movies. I even had a poster of him on the wall of my college dorm room. Can you say “crush”?! Anyway, when the news broke that he was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer I was stunned as I am sure most people were. I have put off writing this post because the news hit home for me and it is something I haven’t really written much about.

Last April my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Even as I write the words they still don’t seem real. This type of cancer is one of the most deadly types mostly because it is found at later stages of the disease. It is difficult to diagnose and there is really no screening test. My dad ended up going to the ER with vomiting and stomach pain. It had been difficult for him to keep any food in his stomach. Tests revealed a blockage at the place where the stomach connects to the intestines. Possibly a tumor. Further tests revealed that it was a tumor attached to his pancreas. He underwent a Whipple Procedure which surgery specific to removing tumors of the pancreas. The surgery was successful however the tumor was cancer and there is lymph node involvement.

I wondered how it could be possible that cancer was hitting my family again only 6 years after my breast cancer diagnosis. But you see cancer does not discriminate. I was only 31 when I heard the words “you have cancer” and my dad is only 59 years old. Still a youngin in my book. Pancreatic cancer affects males more often and in my dad’s age group. My father is a heavy smoker and an alcoholic. I was stunned in my frantic google search after hearing the news to find that both smoking and alcohol abuse are linked to this type of cancer. My dad amazingly hasn’t had a drink in over 20 years but still smokes like a fiend. With the amount that he drank when I was growing up it is amazing he still has a functioning liver but what kind of damage did it reek on his good ‘ol pancreas? Then again, I had breast cancer with no significant family history at a very young age. Go figure! Thats the scary thing with the big “C”…..there doesn’t seem to be a cookbook answer or rather a textbook case that everyone will fall into. I think it is the same with survival. If you have been diagnosed with cancer your first question may have been “Am I going to die?” I know mine was! And depending on the answer to that one you may wonder “When”. All questions the docs don’t really have answers to. My dad posed that question to his doc and was told he has 8-12 months to live if he didn’t do chemo which he opted not to do. Having gone through treatment myself I respect his decision to not do chemo as I know it has to be his decision and nobody else’s. But here we are coming up on the 1 year anniversary of his diagnosis and he is still kickin around! Not well, but still…

Now after struggling most of my life, oh…who am I kidding…. my whole life, in my relationship with my dad, I have a unique understanding of what he is going through more than anyone in my family. I know what it is like to be a cancer patient and I know what it feels like to be scared you will die. I can also see more clearly what he went through with me when I was sick. I don’t like being on the other side of things. But here I am. Trying to figure it all out. An impossible puzzle to solve……

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