Submitted by Rose Wisher
November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness month and November 16 is World Pancreatic Cancer Day. A pancreatic cancer diagnosis can be devastating. It is a cancer often found in later stages because of few and surreptitious symptoms, and is statistically one of the worst cancers for treatment and survival. The five-year survival rate is just 10%. As a result, it is essential to educate ourselves on recognizing any symptoms we are experiencing so we can get a diagnosis as early as possible.
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer can include: Jaundice, often first seen in the eyes, abdominal pain, rapid weight loss without apparent cause; and bloating often accompanied by a meal. If these issues arise, you need to immediately see your doctor.
I am one of the very few, very fortunate survivors of pancreatic cancer. In January of 2019 I was experiencing pain in the upper-right side of my abdomen in the early morning hours between 4 and 5 am. I thought it was my gallbladder, however in the hospital, a CT scan showed there was a 5.5 cm tumour in my pancreas. I underwent a 10 1/2-hour Whipple surgery and the tumour was successfully removed. It was stage 3 and it had spread into my lymph nodes which was categorized as stage 2. I decided to move to Toronto to have chemotherapy at one of the best cancer treatment hospitals in the world, Princess Margaret.
My family history is riddled with various cancers. Sadly, I lost my mother and two sisters to colorectal, uterine, and pancreatic cancer. I am the youngest in my family, and when I got my diagnosis at the age of 52, was the first to be genetically tested. I have an inherited BRCA2 mutation. This is present in about 10% of pancreatic cancer patients. The BRCA2 finding did help me in the course of treatment. It is known that the cancer caused by this mutation responds well to the platinum-based drug cocktail I received. It meant that the treatment was more lenient and modified. I cannot stress what this meant for me psychologically as well as physically.
I am so happy to share my story of survival! I am now on the cusp of celebrating five years on my own healing journey. The year of surgery and treatment and years of recovery was made bearable by the support I received from an organization called Wellspring Cancer Support.
On the days when I was able to function while undergoing treatment, I walked to my local Wellspring centre in Toronto where the staff and volunteers gave me the support I so desperately needed. The programs helped me keep my life in balance and gave me a different perspective, one of hope and acceptance, no matter what the outcome might have been. I was able to speak with a peer support volunteer, a professional therapist and other patients who were going through similar experiences. With the help of people in this place of reverence, I was able to keep my sanity in check. I took part in art therapy classes, meditation and visualization sessions, yoga and eventually an exercise program run by professional kinesiologists.
What was undoubtedly the most difficult time in my life has now bloomed into a time where I have become the woman I always wanted to be (well, I am almost there!). I have become a powerhouse, a more alive and mindful woman who can give back. I now have the strength to help others through this most difficult time. I have just completed training to be a Wellspring pancreatic peer support worker. I can offer support for those who may, or may not, be as fortunate as myself in a truly meaningful and profound way. I am connected to something so much bigger than myself and no matter what the future holds, I am living everyday with gratitude.
Almost all of us have been touched in some way with the “Big C”, the monster that creeps unexpectedly into our lives or the lives of our loved ones. But there is support! No one has to go through this alone and the resources are easily accessible for patients, caregivers and families.
Wellspring is a Canada-wide network of community-based charities, offering programs and services, at no charge and without referral to anyone, with any type of cancer and at any stage in their journey.
Programs are available in-person and online. There are over 50 programs available that offer connection to a supportive community, practical information, and fact-based seminars to help you sift through the gluttony of “everything” being thrown at you when you need to make grounded and good decisions about your own future. The staff and volunteers at Wellspring are well versed in how to help because so many have been through a cancer diagnosis and treatment themselves.
Wellspring charges no fees and receives no government funding. Programs and operations are made possible only through the generosity of donors and funds raised through donations, sponsorships, and special events.
Wellspring has partnership with organizations like Pancreatic Cancer Canada, and a multitude of others. With increased coordination resources are maximized, and accessibility for our cancer community is broadened.
Let’s work together to make our world a better place and support each other everyday, but especially when life becomes difficult.