The Day I Found Out I Have Pancreatic Cancer - Part 2

Continued from 'The Day I Found Out I Have Pancreatic Cancer - Part 1.'

Processing the News

Trying to absorb this shocking news that I had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Paul and I were very quiet, saying very little during our drive to Aspen. I had not felt well while flying to Denver and ate little at lunch with friends. This was unusual; it was almost as if I knew this horrific news was about to be delivered. I started shaking and was suddenly craving a milkshake, something I had not had in about 35 years! We pulled into a Wendy’s, plugged in our cell phones to charge and sat in a booth, surrounded by energetic, noisy children running everywhere. Drinking the shake only made my body shake more violently, but somehow this cold drink felt comforting.

We had planned to have dinner with friends that evening at their home. When I called to tell her I had received some very bad news and that we would have to cancel, I could not believe I was hearing myself saying I had pancreatic cancer. It was so surreal. They insisted we come to their home, regardless of the hour. We arrived around 9pm where they greeted us at the door with loving embraces and information printed out with resources.

Appointment Number One

A mutual friend with pancreatic cancer made a call on my behalf to see his doctor in Houston. We were on a plane the next day. The following twenty-four hours were foggy with so many loving friends calling to offer help and comfort. Sleep escaped me. I was constantly cold and lost my appetite all together. Upon arrival in Houston, I called friends to see if they were free to spend the next three to four hours with Paul as I was scheduled for more tests and a scan. I was unprepared for this type of scan. The scanning rooms are always very cold because of the machines, which only made me more uncomfortable. A mountain of blankets were produced for my relief but did not eliminate the discomfort and uncontrollable shaking I experienced. Upon arrival at the doctor’s office, I realized I was hungry, having not really eaten anything in 48 hours. Warm tea and biscuits were provided which was soothing, but only for the next few minutes. Sitting in the doctor’s office, watching him draw a diagram of the pancreas and describing the tumor, the organs to which it had spread and his recommendation for therapy was so overwhelming and shocking. Other than a minor breast procedure that revealed a non-malignant tumor 25 years earlier, I had never been sick or in the hospital. 

We joined our friends and another couple for dinner that evening. This was such a gift as the distraction was the perfect antidote to help us slowly ease into this new world of fear and so many unanswered questions. The next few days at home in Los Angeles were filled with constant phone calls trying to better understand what my options were, and how to best approach this horrific disease.

Trusting My Gut

 Then a dear friend made a connection to an oncologist at UCLA, just a few blocks from where we lived. Confused, terrified and overwhelmed, I was trying to sort through mass of information provided by my loving friends. Should I go to Texas, Florida, Switzerland? Everyone had a story and an opinion to help guide me through this challenging process. Paul was my rock and a great support. Together we decided to meet with the UCLA doctor who kindly saw us over 4th of July weekend. His approach was matter-of-fact, but I felt he was knowledgeable, experienced and confident that his specialty in this disease made a difference. How important and critical this was became very clear as I progressed through my journey. I wanted to trust him as I was exhausted, frightened and couldn’t bear the thought of traveling the country interviewing doctors. I have always trusted my instincts; and this felt right. He did not sugar coat anything. No predictions were made. He was direct, assured and informative. His adorable dog, a small Shih Tzu, roamed the office exploring treatment rooms, which put a smile on my face.  And he was in my own backyard; I could literally walk to his office if needed. The decision was made, and onward we went through my pancreatic cancer journey. 

Laurie MacCaskill