As many of you know, I was diagnosed with a neuroendocrine pancreatic tumor in 2009. My tumor was small and slow growing, and I did NOT have regular pancreatic cancer. You may also know that this was my third cancer diagnosis, therefore, the title of my blog. I am grateful that you are reading this. I'm quite certain that your support and prayers helped me survive.
Friday, August 4, 2017
Reflections on Being a 40-Year Cancer Survivor
I am so lucky.It
might be a bit surprising to hear these words from someone who has had cancer 3
times.First at age 21, then at 42 and
then again at 53.First time it was
vaginal, then lung, then pancreatic.Now, at age (almost) 62, I’m grateful and honestly feel lucky.Lucky to be here.To have a loving and supportive husband and
two amazing children (both currently in medical school), and a brother who has
been there for me from the very beginning. I had the very best parents anyone
could have asked for, and I have the most extraordinary network of friends and
family.I could not be more grateful,
and when I say, “every day is a gift”, I mean it with all my heart. When people
hear my story for the first time, they often say, “You need to write a book!”.My response is that I really don’t have that
much to say.If I did write one, it
would be rather short.Here is the
abbreviated version of what would be a very short book:
Life is short…enjoy it.
Focus on the things you have, not on what you don’t.
Happiness is a choice.Choose to be happy.
Life is not fair.
Give back to your community, to your friends and to your family.
Eat healthy food.
Spend money on experiences, not things.
Get rid of things that are not useful, beautiful or joyful.
Cherish your friends and family, and tell people you love
them if you do. Tell them often.
It never hurts to ask. (My mother taught me that one!)
Take time to smell the roses. (My father always told me that
Did I mention that cancer sucks?
OK…here are a few more details.
I was born in 1955 in Brooklyn, NY.My mother was given a completely useless and
ineffective drug called diethylstilbestrol, better known as DES. It was supposed to prevent miscarriage (a
completely natural and often a protective event for both mother and baby).Instead, this horrific drug, promoted heavily
by the pharmaceutical industry, wreaked havoc on the mothers who took the drug
and the children that were exposed to it in utero.In our case, my mother had pre-menopausal
breast cancer at age 39, and I developed clear cell adenocarcinoma of the
vagina at age 21.Can you imagine that?
And so it goes….I had a radical vaginectomy (yes, that is not a typo) and
hysterectomy at age 21, just after graduating from college.I somehow went on to graduate school at the Harvard
School of Public Health (Masters degree), met my amazing husband, moved to
California, got my Ph.D. in Epidemiology at the UC Berkeley School of Public
Health, published my dissertation in the New England Journal of Medicine, had
two children with the help of an amazing surrogate, got diagnosed with a
neuroendocrine lung tumor at the age of 42, went on to do a bunch of other
things (not in my original field of study), swam a lot, got involved with a
great organization called Swim Across America, became a Health and Wellness
Coach, got as healthy as I could get….then got diagnosed with a neuroendocrine
pancreatic tumor…yes, the very same one that killed Steve Jobs.
That was in 2009.I had a big surgery called a Whipple…google
it, you won’t believe it! I was 53 years old.So, the past 8 years have been relatively uneventful.I saw both of my kids graduate college and
get into medical school, saw my dad (whom I adored) die, and I'm about to lose my
mom.For the most part, except when I get
cancer, I’m pretty healthy.I have a
million (well not a million!) side effects from all the surgeries (8 in all,
and about 22 hospitalizations over the years).I have to mention just a few: lymphedema, a neurogenic bladder, chronic
stomach pain, frequent bowel obstructions from all the scar tissue, have to be
very careful about what I eat, have to be scanned more often than I would like,
live with severe sciatica (which may or may not be related to my last surgery),
and, of course, I live with the constant fear that I will get cancer again.Having said that, I’m still thankful each and
every day.Sometimes people ask me to
name all of the body parts that I’ve lost…..here goes: (in no particular
Vagina (reconstructed using my colon)
Upper superior lobe of left lung
Several pieces of my large bowel
½ of my pancreas
…I think that’s it.
So, having lost all of these organs, most of which I believe
are either overrated or at the very least, not essential, I can, in all
honestly, say that I am grateful.Grateful to still be on this earth.Grateful that I have had the very best healthcare and excellent doctors
and nurses, benefitted from great research, and have had really good health insurance.(These are all things that I currently worry
about for our country!) I am grateful to my family and friends, especially to
my loving husband and kids.I’m not sure
where I’d be without them.
If you find my story at all inspiring, please watch these
two short videos to get a fuller picture.If not, you just read the shortened, abbreviated, Cliff Note version of
my life.I hope you enjoyed it, and I
hope to be around so I can write about what it is like survive cancer 50 or even
If you were at all inspired by any of this…a donation to
Swim Across America in honor of my 40th Anniversary of surviving
cancer would be so greatly appreciated.Help us Make Waves to Fight Cancer.