Following surgery, it was a week before the pathology report on the bits and pieces taken from my body was ready. In words you and I can understand, here is what it said, the short version:
The mass in my pancreas was positive for pancreatic adenocarcinoma – pancreatic cancer to you and me.
During surgery, called the “Whipple Procedure,” the diseased part of the pancreas was removed along with my gall bladder and some other parts. The tumor was determined to be “clean at the margins” - that is, cancer had not escaped the pancreas.
In addition, 17 lymph nodes touching the pancreas were removed and tested for cancer cells; two were positive. Here is what that means for me.
There are types of chemotherapy to treat this cancer and I will meet with a medical oncologist about that sometime in the next month or two. According to my surgeon and his team, a few people respond to this treatment and live up to ten more years.
Sounds good except that 80 percent in my circumstance who take this treatment are dead from the disease in five or fewer years. Numbers may vary from other sources but not enough to talk about.
(Excuse me while I take a moment for another small weep.)
Well, that's a stunner. Even though I'm 76 years old and even though my parents and other relatives died of one cancer or another when they were younger than I am, I was aiming for my grandmother's lifetime (92) or my great aunt's (89).
Nonetheless, I find it hard to complain that 77 or 78 or 80 years is not a decent run at life. And I have no patience with “miracle” alternative cancer cures – believe me, if they were real we would all know about them. Nor do I place any hope in beating the odds – a foolish waste of time.
Beyond that, my thoughts are an unrelated jumble still fogged from the effects of surgery, anesthesia and follow-up drugs – not useful. It takes every bit of my physical and mental effort right now to work out my medication schedule, figure out this new way of eating and give my body time to recover from the trauma of the surgery.
Walk, they tell me, even short distances. Keep your feet above your heart to reduce the swelling in your feet, ankles and legs. Well, which is it? How do I balance that?
Not to mention nap time. For the short future, I'm doing one hour up and about, the next hour in bed and so on.
I want to answer your lovely email and snailmail cards but 30 minutes at the desk every couple of hours is my body's and mind's limit and there are also banking, bills, personal business items, etc. to deal with.
Thinking time too. How do I want to spend the months and years remaining to me? I don't expect to answer that now, all at once, but the thoughts bubble up and need attention or, at least, notation before they float away.
The most I've figured out so far is that I desperately do not want to become a professional patient but I don't even know yet how much of my time and effort will need to be devoted to being as healthy and active as possible.
There is a lot more to life than dying and I still want as much of it as I can get.