Wednesday, June 23, 2010

10 Month Post-op Report/Update

This past Sunday was 10 months since my 6 ½ hour surgery for neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer, and I’m thrilled to report that I feel great - strong and healthy and pretty much back to normal. Ten months– wow! Time – it’s so strange – how long exactly is 10 months? Just about 40 weeks or 300 days (depending on how you count – from the day, from the date, etc)! Not that much time at all when you really think about it. On August 20th, I had a 6 ½ hour Whipple operation …and on June 20th I swam 2.7 miles and celebrated Aly’s high school graduation with about 80 friends for brunch! Amazing!

Just about every day someone tells me that I should write a book. Of course, that sounds like a great idea, but honestly, I’m not so sure I have that much to say. I think about what I’ve been through all the time, and of course, I worry a lot about my future health. I have had a few minor bumps in the road since the surgery, but I have every reason to believe that I am fine, and am going to stay fine. Mostly, I feel grateful to have made it through the surgery and the 23 days in the hospital, which were a total nightmare.

Right now, I am living without the following: a reproductive system, one lobe of my left lung, ½ of a pancreas, a duodenum, a gall bladder, parts of my large and small intestines, my appendix – and guess what? I’m OK! It really is amazing what we are capable of living without! Regaining my strength, getting used to my rewired digestive system, learning to live with a new body (both inside and out), seeing a pretty ugly scar the width of my entire abdomen every day, having to relearn how to eat solid food, figuring out how much food was too much, accepting the fact that I might never do a sit-up again, figuring out what it means to be a 3-time cancer survivor, and just putting it all in perspective have been my challenges during these 10 months.

So much has happened in this time period – it’s rather difficult to imagine, and it’s scary to think how quickly time seems to pass, on the one hand, and how it feels like the surgery was just yesterday on the other! While I was in the hospital, my daughter, Aly turned 17, and my son, David left for his sophomore year in college. Since then, Aly applied and was accepted early to Williams College, the SF Swim Across America event took place in the Bay which raised $90,000 for both UCSF and Oakland Children’s Hospitals for cancer research, we watched David run in the NYC Marathon and he came in 7th in his age group, my website for my Wellness Coaching business was launched, my parents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, Richard and I celebrated our 24th, I resumed fundraising for Berkeley High and then retired, Aly graduated from high school, David completed his sophomore year in college, and on and on. What is so strange about all of this is that life seemed to come to a screeching halt for a while. I got off the merry-go-round that we all seem to be on and thought my world was going to fall apart. But then, lo and behold, after it was all over with, I managed to get right back on the merry-go-round, almost as if nothing had happened! I saw that my world was intact, nothing much had changed, and most of the things that I put on hold were just waiting for me to pick up where I left off. It is so amazing. Life went on for everyone else – it was just temporarily on hold for me (and for Richard)!

What have I learned from experiencing and getting though my 3rd bout with cancer, my 8th surgery and my umpteenth hospitalization? Quite a lot, actually, but nothing so profound that I didn’t already know it. Some of the lessons learned:
• To be grateful.
• Not to sweat the small stuff but to know how important the small stuff actually is – like a smile, a thank you, a phone call, a card, a gift, a meal – it all means so much and it came to me from people from all different parts of my life.
• To live one day at a time and enjoy each and every day because we have no idea what can happen tomorrow.
• To exercise a lot because it makes you feel so good – especially, as you all know – swimming is a must .
• To appreciate your friends….and your family - even if you sometimes don’t see the world the same way or agree on everything.

So, these days, if I happen to have a bad one, I look around and I see that I have a wonderful husband, 2 fabulous kids, a beautiful home, both of my parents alive and well, work that I enjoy, am able to swim outside every single day, and I’ve just survived my 3rd bout with cancer. My thoughts generally turn to ones of thanks and gratitude for all the things I do have and for having “dodged a bullet” or as one friend pointed out, it was more like a missile! In any case, it is now all behind me, and I am looking forward to this next stage of my life. The empty nest is fast approaching, and while I am terrified on the one hand, I’m thrilled to have raised my kids to be engaged and happy individuals forging their own unique and exciting paths in the world.

This next part is going to be fun for Richard and me, and we are thrilled for David and Aly. Quite frankly, I never thought I’d make it to my “mid-fifties” – but here I am. I’ve amassed a wonderful network of friends, family and acquaintances - both physically and virtually- and it is great knowing you are all out there. Thank you for the support and encouragement you have given me this past year and a half. As I have written many times before, I could never have made it without you.

So, until the next time I get inspired to post on my blog, or find enough to write about that could fill up a book, I will say good-bye for now. I just wanted those of you who don’t see me regularly to know that I am doing well. I’m really fine. Please check out my website at

Also, yes, I will be swimming 1.5 miles in the SF Bay on September 25th to raise money for cancer research. If you are able to support my team, Team Susan Survives!, please do so by going to, and I thank you in advance. And of course, don’t forget… Just Keep Swimming

Much love and thanks,


  1. This is so beautiful, Susan. I vote for you writing a book. A world of people could benefit from your story, which has its share of pain and suffering and joy and optimism. You are the poster girl for resiliency. Plus you're a great writer! Love you, Jill

  2. Hi Susan,
    You taught me and my younger sister how to swim many years ago at the Wiltyck Country Club. Karin was much better at swimming and diving than I was! The picture of you poolside above is simply amazing. You look exactly as you did back in those "Wiltwyck" days! You were a great teacher then as you are now. There is much to learn from your strength against adversity. My Very BEST Wishes to you and your family!
    Tony-Joe Grimaldi

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