How Brains Change in Old Age
Net Neutrality Died on 11 June

Pancreatic Cancer One Year Later, Plus The Alex and Ronni Show

At the bottom of today's story is the latest episode of The Alex and Ronni Show. Some of the conversation relates to this post and - god help us, there's more kitty talk.

* * *

On this date a year ago, I spent 12 hours under anesthesia while a surgeon and his many associates in that room poked around in my wide-open torso removing and/or rearranging several organs or parts thereof with the goal of saving my life.

Here is what I looked like directly after they stapled me back together and then carefully watched over me until I was allowed to go home 11 days later.


My friend and health care proxy Autumn Schoen, who traveled from New Jersey to be with me that week, took the photo at my request – I wanted to know what I looked like after such a formidable and frightening procedure. (Thank god they put you to sleep.)

If you recall, Autumn also did an terrific job of keeping you up to date on my progress with her blog posts (here, here and here) until I could write them again myself.

What the surgeons did that day is called the Whipple Procedure, also known as a pancreaticoduodenectomy. (Yeah, just try to pronounce that.)

Although the surgeon had pulled no punches explaining how difficult it would be for me, particularly the recovery, I still was not prepared for how awful the first couple of months turned out to be.

Getting through that period is the hardest thing I've ever done. Nothing in my life comes close. Many mornings I seriously wished I had rejected the surgery and just let myself die.

Slowly, however, it got better. Before the surgery, I had stocked up on frozen foods since I knew I wouldn't be able to cook for awhile. Friends and neighbors generously shopped for me, cleaned Ollie the cat's litter box, took out the trash, drove me to medical appointments and that's just the daily, practical stuff.

They also were there with moral support through those first couple of hard months and the entire year following, too, as I gradually improved. Except for a couple of remaining small issues, I have designated myself 95 percent recovered.

Even better, several tests over the past five months show I am free of cancer, the doctors say. Since it's pancreatic cancer we're talking about and hardly anyone survives even a year, I must have been Mother Teresa in a past life to have gotten this far.

As I said in a previous post,

“This definitely is a grace – defined by Christians as an unearned, unmerited, undeserved favor from god. If like me, god is a tricky concept for you, think of it as the same kind of gift but from the universe.”

It is impossible for me to properly express my gratitude not only to those friends and neighbors who helped at home but to the dozens of doctors, nurses, technicians and the many other kinds of care givers and helpers at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) who have been there every step of the way with their unfailing knowledge, expertise, compassion, understanding, encouragement and kindness.

Getting to where I am, however, is not like healing a broken leg - finished and done with after six weeks or so. I am acutely aware that the cancer can return and often does, and that's not easy to live with.

Until a year ago, even with my long-term annoyance at television and radio commercials for prescription drugs, I had no idea how frequent and frightening cancer “cure” commercials are. I don't suppose it occurred to me, pre-diagnosis, that they could apply to my circumstance. That's different now.

These days, I am incapable of ignoring them and cannot bear to hear them. As a result, I have become masterly swift at hitting the mute button when those adverts appear.

Surely I've mentioned several times over this past year that the last thing I have wanted is to become a professional patient. Ha! How naive of me.

Nobody can take up to 20 pills a day, count them out weekly into their little container compartments, keep up with refills so not to run out (somehow, they never need replenishing on the same day or week) and not be reminded several times a day that you will always be a patient now.

I've tried to make jokes about how my doctors, lab attendants, nurses and others at OHSU are now the major part of my social life but it's actually not a joke – I see some of them more frequently than friends and in fact, some have become friends of a kind I don't have a word for. But it is a good thing.

So I've had to make peace with being a professional patient. And I'm getting good at it. When I gave a doctor the daily notes I had made over several weeks tracking the internal bleed (now fixed), he said, “I wish all our patients made lists like this for us.”

Until the cancer diagnosis, I had lived a remarkably healthy life for 75-odd years. The worst that happened was a bad flu every few years and I didn't give my well-being much thought beyond keeping up with exercise fairly regularly and relatively healthy food.

But I'm a different person now. I am not as comfortable in my skin, nor in my mind and I no longer trust my body. Too often a minor pain or twitch leaves me asking myself if it's cancer-related. I need to gird myself before checking each new set of test results online.

When I'm tired toward the end of each day – which is still much earlier in the afternoon than before all this happened - my thoughts turn dark. My more rational self tells me to let it go, just live, enjoy this extra time I've been given and I'm usually able to do that. Until next time, and then I start over.

I don't yet understand the consequences of the changes that have come over me. So much of this year has been – and still is - taken up with the busy-ness of having – or, having had - a terrible disease that there is not always time for usual tasks, let alone complex reflection.

But now that I am better, maybe I can devote some thought to how I am different and what, if anything, it means.

You're reading all this today because so many of you have been here throughout this long, strange trip and because today is a milestone, an anniversary of consequence in my life.

Before writing today's post, I re-read every “cancer post” I've written along with every comment from you, dear readers. You, collectively, have been my daily rock with your constant and continuing support, encouragement and kind responses.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Now, on to the second anniversary.

* * *

Here is latest episode of The Alex and Ronni Show.

If you would like to see Alex's entire two-hour show with other guests after me, you can do that at Facebook or Gabnet on Facebook or on YouTube.


On to the second anniversary! I feel we need trumpets! You certainly deserve them, both for enduring and for telling us about it all in such an unsweetened, direct, truthful way. Thank you.

Your video(still) picture at the end is the fitting exclamation point.

Congratulations on this anniversary, no less important than any others. You gave back - to us and others, the fierceness and grace of resilience and fight, trust amidst incredible fear, and eventual tear-evoking relief as when there's a fairytale-type ending, following a dreaded tale.

Each posting was opened with a breath sharply drawn in, a mind calmed, a spine stiffened. And slowly as your condition improved, so did our spirits. You gave an opening to experience and examine our own lives and feelings as we gathered round you last year.

So, thank you. Be well and keep thriving.

Hugs and hearts your way Ronni xx
I am joyous in your recovery and so very glad of your stamina in getting this far and into all your tomorrows xx

So, so great, Ronni. I think all of us give thanks. As for having trouble with what God is, I've come to believe God IS the Universe and everything in it -- including all of us.

It's lovely to see your video and see how good you look! I am so happy for you on your "anniversary." I know this is corny but I mean it with all my heart "live long and prosper."

Thank you for these wonderful words, sharing your thoughts and inspiring us to keep going in this life which can be challenging.

Thank you Simone, for also putting this so beautifully.

Ronnie, thank you for taking me along on your difficult journey this last year, and for the relationship one can have simply through writing so authentically. You have an amazing mind and spirit, and I am inspired by you.

I've thought many times that if push came to shove health-wise, I'd be fine to cash in the chips. Your posts changed this for me, and your finding meaning and joy amidst your new reality elevates the proposition considerably. Sending you love and gratitude for the grace that has kept you here with us!

Ronni, I have followed every up and down with smiles, tears, and gratitude for living in a time when I can make such a good friend that I will probably never meet, other than virtually. Your journey is universal, and I’m proud to know you. Happy anniversary! :-)

Agree with all above. Feel our love, Ronni. Be well!

So informative to read about your journey and know that you are doing well. It’s inspiring as we are all at the age when anything can go wrong and it often does.

I have a suggestion for your medications—maybe a pill holder that accommodates a month’s supply? I just got 2 for my husband’s meds—one for AM and one for PM. I read the reviews on Amazon before I ordered and got the ones that could accommodate a lot of pills. It might make it less stressful?

Ronni, when you first posted your diagnosis, I felt gut-punched. (Never mind what you felt!). I so appreciate your fierce honesty, how you chronicled your treatment and recovery, your thoughts on mortality as you faced what might have been your own untimely death. How you continue chronicle, without sugar coating, your ongoing recovery and thoughts. It is such a joy to be reading of your anniversary today! Carry on. We need you.

You are amazing and definitely an inspiration to me.

Happy Anniversary Ronni! Hang in there! Wishing you the continued blessing of good health. With Love and Gratitude, Nancy

Sorry, but I have to say it. "You've come a long way, baby!" And we're all so very glad. Happy First Anniversary and may there be many more.

Lovely to see your smile...thank you for your wisdom. You are an inspiration.💕

Hard to believe it has been a YEAR! I don't comment too often, but just wanted to say how much I appreciate your blog for honesty about what you've been through. So glad you are better, but I know (from my own past kidney surgeries/sister with breast cancer) that the shadow of worry about illness never quite disappears once you've encountered it.

Best wishes and, yes, just try to live each day (as we all do too).

Thank you for being you, for being so fiercely devoted to truth-telling. Three cheers for Ronni! I am so glad for you!

Maybe you would like to know, also, that through this blog and the community of wise commenters you have gathered, you have had an immensely positive influence in my life. Next week I might be about to have to make a major medical choice. What I have learned here will help me choose better.

Ditto to the above so well articulated words of gratitude. Regarding "grace", I just finished reading Katherine Ozment's "Grace Without God". Secular Grace can simply be a form of reverence for life, " an intense awareness of the moment itself, for this life we were joined in as family..." an appreciation for what life has given us, etc. , all of which can be descriptive of what you are feeling, perhaps.

From my heart to yours, Ronnie, I, we, need you. I thank the Universe, the stars, the powers that be for keeping you with us. You are such a teacher and mentor. I feel as if I am along on your journey and that of others by being a part of this wonderful blog. Being able to put ourselves out there, being as honest as words can allow, gives us such a sense of belonging and sharing of our time on this earth. You are our connector. I keep learning with each and every post. Keep em coming!

With love and enormous admiration and gratitude,


Ronni, not much of importance to say except "Happy Healthy Anniversary!" So wonderful to have been able to read all you've so generously shared. Thank you. All the best.

Congratulations on this hard-earned anniversary. I'm so glad your annus horribilus (sp?) is over and you're back to "95%". I sincerely hope that news from the health front will be good from now on.

At 81 I'm not sure I would have made the same choice as you did when confronted with enduring the Whipple Procedure--actually, they probably wouldn't even offer it to someone 80+--but all your readers appreciate that you did and that it turned out well.

The most wonderful thing about this heartfelt post is the contrast between the first photo and the last (video) photo! I am *so* thankful that you have come so far in a year and are doing as well as you are today...'today', of course, being all that any of us have for sure.... I love your 'Alex and Ronni Show' videos, too...both to see you, animated, and the fun of the banter between the two of you. Lovely that you can now be 'old friends'!

You deserve props and kudos unlimited forever for the way you've taken on a new and often very difficult life. You have endured with style and grace! And had the courage to share even when the truth was not all light and flowers. Many, many blessings for the next year, may it be smoother, happier, lighter. And yeah, we never totally get over our brushes with the great what-ever-comes-next. But that's okay, maybe we begin to view it with less alarm.
Thank you for sharing your year with us, here's to many more!

Congratulations on reaching this one-year-post-surgery marker, and all the best in getting to the next!

I'm sure it's seemed longer to you, but when this came up today, I was actually surprised that it's been a year already since your surgery. Following your progress through your posts these twelve months has been an interesting experience. I'm glad that it also seems to have been good for you to have been able to have shared it with your readers.

I'm also very much enjoying the Alex and Ronni show. ($11 for a pack of cigarettes -- yikes!!) Keep the episodes coming and keep on keeping on!

You’ve experienced enough in life to know that when your “thoughts turn dark” that can be a normal reaction. but one that does not have to last and will not. To have survived all this cancer upset, and whatever else through the years, clearly you have and are continuing to learn the lessons for successfully accommodating and adapting to the circumstances. This is what our survival necessitates which your words here so elegantly illuminate. Appreciate your sharing here. Know that only positive thoughts and caring wishes for your ongoing good health are being sent your way.

as your words here

And we, dear Ronni, are so glad you are with us still!! On to Year 2!!

Dudette, you rock! Congratulations is so inadequate - I just thank the powers that be that you are with us. Keep it up!

This is just marvelous. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us this second anniversary. We too are glad you are with us.

Echoes of the above. Really glad you're still here too. Onwards and upwards.

I second and third the lovely sentiments of congratulations and am so very grateful that you had the courage to stay the difficult course and do what had to be done to recover from the terrible trauma you have been thr0ugh. I feel like you minimized the pain and suffering you were going through when you first started writing about this journey. But for anyone who has gone through major surgery we could guess how awful it must have been.

You continued to hang in there and do what had to be done. For that we all owe you a debt of gratitude for your courage when the dark thoughts appeared that might have made it easy to give up.

I may be 15 years older than you, but you still taught me a lot. Thanks for being you.

Thank you for sharing your experiences.
You are appreciated as you have enriched so many lives.
Here we are Day One of Year Two... enjoy !!!!!

I am an old friend. Off the radar for a few years due to my own health issues. I had no idea that you have been going through this... I am so very sorry. You have always been my touchstone and Elder Warrior.... invincible, tough, and wise. Not having a mother figure of my own, I bestowed that upon you even though I never asked what you may think of it.... ha! As I re-enter your world you are still everything I remember although it breaks my heart to know the horrific journey you have gone through. You are still my inspiration. Please continue to feel better and stay strong on your healing journey. xxxx

Congratulations!!! Thank you for sharing this journey with us. I have learned so much from you. Your blog was the first blog I ever read all those many years ago when you were in Portland, ME and it has been the only blog I read consistently. Thank you for being so special. Sending best wishes to a very strong and wise woman.

Thank you Roni for your survival and for thriving. And to your friend, April (?) was that her name who supported you through the whole procedure and recovery. Keep us posted about your progress. Radiant health to you and your friends.
Love, Ellen Greenlaw, disability advocate and human being

Congrats on the anniversary, Ronni, and many, many more. Your readers join you in celebrating this wonderful milestone.

I must quibble, however, with the characterization of your successful outcome as a "grace" if you use the definition you provided. Unearned? Maybe. But undeserved? No way.

Nothing has more life assessing power than having to go through the whole diagnosis-surgery-recovery thing. You find out some amazing things about yourself. One being that you are much stronger than you thought you were. You also find yourself asking why you were allowed to pull through while others never make it. I'm not going to say that one all of,a sudden finds religion, but it does make you think that there is a divine power looking out for us.
BTW, I enjoy watching the conversations you have with Alex. I only wish I had the same relationship with my ex.

"Researchers suggest that the brain generates less (sic) chemical messengers with aging ..."

Lol! Touché!

Goodness, what a journey. Wishing you well.

Congratulations! And thank you for your honesty and your sharing, which have helped and inspired so many of us! Sending big hugs...

I am a relatively newcomer to "Time Goes By", Ronni, since February of this year. A kind woman at the Lake Oswego Adult Center mentioned your blog when I was asking about Senior discussion groups. Upon learning about your medical troubles I felt I had just missed your very interesting blog 'boat' and I was clearly wrong.

This literal Tsunami of thanks, praise, good wishes, and friendship from your band of readers and commentators has been inspiring and even a comfort for me , as it feels like new friends to me being relatively new to Portland. Enjoying TGB brings to mind the rare song Gonzo the turkey gets to sing in the first Muppet Movie in the 70s'. The one line I always remember is "We don't have a word yet for old friends that have just met."
Your comment about all the medical folks in your life now "becoming friends of a kind you don't have a word for" applies here too, it seems to me. Can we invent one? Maybe.

Quoting you again, "This definitely is a grace ''. My own personal feeling of what is true 'grace' is when the giver and the receiver of any gift are BOTH blessed by it. I feel certain the staff at OHSU truly value and learned even more from the experience you allowed them. It is not from a religion just the way life seems to work in my small circle.

And as for the 'god' questions that often arise in any discussion of dramatic events such as your own, I go with Thomas Carlyle
"An unfathomable Somewhat, which is not we". And quietly add, Maybe ? We really don't KNOW anything for sure, but faith and grace seem like good wagers, Ronni. You played the cards you were dealt and seems to these really old nurses eyes.

Damn! You made it, my friend!

I've come to love you like a dear friend and am therefore so joyously happy today. Your sharing the last year has been courageous and I thank you for sharing it with us.

I'm someone who decided against doctor-suggested surgery, and am totally at peace with my decision.

Reflecting on your journey this past year, and comparing the photos which begin and end this post has brought me to tears. The outpouring of gratitude that we still have you with us is only a small indication of how much you are loved.

I love this words from Eleanor Roosevelt, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along."

Love from a friend in Canada,



Your Montreal Fan.


Keep those interviews with Alex coming.


So glad you are better!

Just reading this now and realize what a blessing you have shared with everyone. I wish everyday of your journey in this "new state' to be better than the last. Thank you for sharing.

Scrolling through your blog today (July 3) I saw that you had a video up and I just spent the last 25 minutes "visiting" with you and your ex husband. Man, was that fun! I really loved the whole thing, especially the smoking and cat discussions. So funny...! Congratulations on your recovery, Ronni. I have been away from blogging and I am so happy to learn today that you are doing so great! It's truly a miracle!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)