A Time Goes By Manifesto for Our Political Era
INTERESTING STUFF – 28 July 2018

The Joy of Surviving Pancreatic Cancer Plus The Alex and Ronni Show

[NOTE: On Tuesday, my former husband Alex Bennett and I, recorded a new episode of The Alex and Ronni Show. It is posted at the bottom of this story.

* * *

As I begin writing this on Thursday morning, everything is fine. It's a normal summer morning - the sun is shining (it will be a scorcher this afternoon), I've had breakfast, am working on another cup of coffee and looking forward to lunch with a friend.

Nothing remarkable is going on.

And that is the point.

There have been a lot of new subscribers to TGB in the past couple of weeks so here is a short recap to bring you up to date:

In June 2017, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, endured a 12-hour Whipple surgery from which it took most of a year to recover including three months of chemotherapy.

An internal bleed developed leading, over months, to many blood transfusions and, eventually, two (much less invasive) surgeries in April that were successful. There has been no bleeding since then but thanks to the chemo and the blood loss, I became severely anemic.

That led to five, weekly, liquid iron infusions that ended three weeks ago.

Okay. That is the bare bones history. It is the hardest thing I have ever been through in my 77 years, and although I went for the treatment, deep down I believed I would be dead by now.

Personal health reporter Jane Brody pointed out in The New York Times earlier this week that pancreatic cancer is rare, accounting for just three percent of all cancers, but is one of the deadliest:

”Although 55,440 cases, affecting 29,200 men and 26,240 women,” writes Brody, “are expected to be diagnosed this year in the United States, 44,330 people will die of it, often within months of diagnosis, making it the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in this country (after lung, colorectal and breast cancer).”

I ran those numbers. They mean that only 20 percent will survive beyond a few months.

Back in mid-January, after the chemotherapy ended, my Whipple surgeon told me that blood tests had revealed “no current evidence of cancer.” (They are always so meticulously careful with their wording, these cancer doctors.) “Go,” he said waving me toward the door, “and enjoy your life.”

God knows I tried but I didn't feel much like celebrating. Certainly I was relieved but it was tempered with the knowledge that blood tests are not conclusive.

Three weeks later, after reviewing other tests including a CT scan which is more definitive, my oncologist said to me, “There is no sign of the cancer at this time.” (They are always so meticulously careful with their wording, these cancer doctors.)

But I still wasn't ready to throw a party. Smiles on the faces of friends when I told them the scan results were hugely encouraging prompting my own smiles in return. But facts interfered with the joy I believed I should be feeling.

Undoubtedly that reticence was due at least in part to the fact that I knew – and know - pancreatic cancer is resistant to most therapies and it often recurs following surgery either in the pancreas again or another body part.

And even if I had been dancing in the street, there was still the anemia plaguing me which, weeks later, led to the iron infusions.

Thursday morning (today, as I write this), I woke to an email message linking to my online medical records where there were results of blood tests taken on Wednesday. There was also a note from my primary care physician:

”Your lab work looks great!” he wrote. “No signs of anemia and looks like your iron stores are all tanked up.”

And then, THEN – even though the anemia was due to blood loss and chemotherapy, not cancer – I finally felt free to celebrate. I thought my heart might burst as tears of joy spilled into my coffee.

It seems nuts to me that overcoming anemia makes more difference to my sense of good health than cancer-free test results earlier this year. I felt the gradual return to more normal energy levels during the five weeks of iron infusions but there had been poor test results for so long I don't think I trusted my own senses.

I haven't forgotten the high incidence of recurring cancer I face but now I can set that aside. That's what I have wanted more than anything – to feel like I did before all this happened.

And now I do. Yes, some bits and pieces are missing. I'm short a gall bladder, a duodenum, part of my stomach and half my pancreas. There are three or four pills I need to take several times a day for the rest of my life to make up for those losses.

But that is nothing compared to this marvelous feeling of well-being and most of all, ordinariness I have now.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – “Notorious RBG” – has been a hero of mine for a long time. What I did not know until sometime after my initial diagnosis is, as Jane Brody explains in The Times, Ginsburg

”...had part of her pancreas removed after a routine CT scan revealed a one-centimeter lesion. While that lesion was benign, a smaller tumor the surgeon found was malignant and had not yet spread beyond the pancreas.”

That happened in 2009, when she was – as I was last year – age 76. Justice Ginsburg gives this old woman hope she too can make it at least another nine years cancer-free and even resurrect her pre-cancer goal to live as long as her great aunt Edith, 89.

But it doesn't matter if I don't. The universe gave me this extra time that 80 percent of pancreatic cancer patients don't get. Most of all, right now, I want to wallow in the joy of my return to ordinary health.

* * *

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.


Comments

We celebrate with you, Ronni.

Cheers!

I must have been way too high yesterday from returning to a normal life. I definitely meant to ask if anyone else, recovering from a serious health interruption to your life, felt so reluctant as did for a while to accept the good news...

Welcome home.

Don't attempt to click your heels together, but feel free to howl at the moon with full-throated volume.

Or with abandon, laugh freely and openly while amongst others, on the street, in a store, in the john, etc.

You're one of the fortunates. Love your life.

Sometimes you move me to tears, Ronni. So glad you get to experience "normal."

Thank you, Ronni, for sharing your experience in such a poignant way.

Dear Ronnie;

Yes! Wallow in the joy.
Jan

Not me with health issues but my young daughter...this afternoon, in fact, is a very important doctor appointment...I'll take your good news with me to this appointment...every bit of goodness and light can help. Thanks for sharing your story...you never really know the impact you have on others. :)

So glad that you are wallowing in joy, that's good medicine.
Yes, it took me quite some time after being given the "all clear." It was a kind of lurking dark energy around the edges. The whole experience really opened me up in a good way.
You've "kept on keeping on" even when the going was very hard. You even did it with grace and style. Blessings, enjoy the wallow!

It's wonderful that you can feel joy in life with this last piece of news. As a friend of mine said last Sunday when I asked how she was doing, "I can put on my lipstick and go out and do things, what more can I ask for." Yes, indeed.

So, so glad for you, Ronni -- and for all of us!

I'm also struck, as a writer, with @Salinda Dahl's phrase "a kind of lurking dark energy around the edges." Strikingly descriptive.

I have tears of joy for you after reading this. Great test results AND you now feeling really can go out and live your life. Much Joy. Really enjoying seeing you on the Alex and Ronni Show.

Sounds like a great time to find a favorite overlook or spot of nature and ponder what a blessing it all is.

Best wishes for continued, successful aging!

Kind of amazing isn't it! The awful thing about cancer treatment is that you don't know if it will work until it does or doesn't. And here you are, in the light outside the tunnel. If you'd known this when it all started. . .

Anyhow, felicitations! Woot woot!!

Yes, Ronni, I've been only guardedly optimistic about my continuing reports of no evidence of cancer three years after my surgery, although each passing year gets better. But I don't feel "normal" again. The doctor said the letrozole, which I have to take for 5 years, would make me feel 10 years older, and indeed it has. The fatigue it causes definitely does not feel normal. I assume this will continue until I hit that 5-year mark.

But your news is fantastic! And I celebrate your recovery after enduring so much. It's enough to make me misty-eyed.

So so very glad for you, Ronni The joy is even greater for those of us who lived with you through every step of the way. Remember when you had the purple pancreatic cancer heading every column? I suggested that you eliminate it - that you not let the disease define you. But you, being you, wisely followed your own counsel Weeks passed during which its use ebbed and flowed - until one day I realized I hadn't seen it in months. Let it never reappear! Your faith in medical science, your love of life and ability to endure whatever it takes to sustain it are a continuous inspiration to me. Love, Ann

SUCH good news all around. I've wondered periodically if--faced with the diagnosis you received--I would elect to go through surgery (even IF I were medically eligible) and chemo. At 81, I think probably not but one never knows until it happens.

I decided long ago after watching my mother lose her battle with breast cancer over a period of 2 miserable years in "treatment" that I would not put myself or my family through that. Although my views haven't changed so far, I think it's absolutely wonderful that the outcome was positive for you.

You did it and you got through it. Congratulations and wishing you many more years of healthy "everyday" life.

Mazel tov!

Hallelujah!! What fabulous news! You’ll give hope to everyone. I hope that your lab tests and results continue to say “ no cancer at this time”.

I was having a good day until I read your news. . . now it is a GREAT day! Congratulations, and keep the good times rolling for a long time.

My own personal experiences, breast cancer over 30 yrs ago, sudden death of first young husband, sudden death of second husband , made me create "new normals" as I moved on. In time I accepted, no longer lingering and not moving on. Lingering kept me from living in the now moments. Each have their own coping skills. Happy for you Ronnie, enjoy creating your "new normal"!

"Wallow in the joy of...health" . Yes I like that, I like that indeed. "Wallow in the ordinary... " Thank you for that image, that thought. Best wishes for your continued, and improving, health.

I hear a symphony!

Big Montreal hugs to you!!

((((((()))))))

PERFECT!
WONDERFUL NEWS.

I am so happy to hear your news,, Ronnie, and wish you many more years of good health. Let's all raise our glasses to you!

Mary

It's so good that something is going right in this world today and we get to share it with you.

You have been extremely fortunate, Ronni, in beating the odds with this disease. I think of you now each time I hear or read about someone dying from pancreatic cancer. In fact, you were the face that came to mind when I read about Pulitzer prize-winning restaurant critic Jonathan Gold's death from this disease just a few days ago. He was 57, and had been diagnosed just earlier this month. May you continue on this road of restored health for many more years.

Yay, You!!! I know exactly what you are talking about, that desire to feel normal again, after being treated with chemo and radiation for breast cancer 3 years ago. Every twitch, every ache, every cough, raises fears of a recurrence, even though I heard those same careful words from my oncologist that there was no evidence of "distant disease" after a PET scan.

I am a relatively new follower of yours, and I'm happy for you and your new feeling of normalcy!

So happy that YOU are happy! I am a breast cancer Thrive...Triple Negative Breast Cancer which is an ugly and rare subtype with a high occurrence rate. I had good labs my last 3 times, I have no pain nor other symptoms (but then again I had a largevtumor in February 2017 and I felt nothing) and I am living each day as it comes. I had lunch with friends and family today and we caught a movie too! My hair is back, my port is out and I started a line dancing class this week. 2017 is a blur and a nightmare....2018 is another chance! I volunteer at my clinic and I see MANY women who have recurrence of breast cancer which is now metastatic 😱....it makes me sad but I feel I need to be there to help, listen, bring them a warm blanket. ..whatever. You are VERY blessed to be well. My dad did not make it through his pancreatic cancer. He was not a candidate for Whipple due to cardiac issues. They didn't feel he would make it through the long surgery. So my sister and I along with our grown kids who ADORED their Abuelo took care of him, made him laugh, gave him his pain mess and showered him with so much love until he left us. It was a tough road for all of us. Pancreatic cancer is vicious and I am SO happy you were able to get your life saving surgery and are now through it to the other side. I so wish no one would ever get cancer! I am 64 but I see so many young people at the clinic and it is heartbreaking. We must both stay vigilant about keeping up with our followups. Unfortunately it is part of our lives now. Again I am happy for you!

Wonderful news you shared with us today! Waking up to many new days of joy ahead!

You are very fortunate. My husband had glioblastoma, also very rare and always terminal. He lasted 5 months only, partly due to a severe abdominal bleed caused by blood thinners and chemo drug combo, but would have succumbed anyway, in time.

Cancer is a terrible disease and I wish you continued good health.

I am happy for you. Congratulations. Keep talking, keep walking, keep laughing, crying, writing and thinking .... today is the only day any of us have and even that isn't guaranteed.

I believe the girl in the well was Katy. There was a song about it.

Re your query "reluctant for a while to accept the good news..." I had to think about this a bit, Ronni, as it was some 20 years ago I experienced this.
At the time I had 3 contrary medical issues that had left me feeling as though I was in a physical, mental, emotional,
Bermuda Triangle. I was in my 50s, married with 3 children and a sister I was helping with my own mother's care. Fatigue and weight loss were scarring me. (which was a total surprise) Perhaps because it had gone on so long I had just eased into feeling things were over for me. Now 95#s and really tired it felt oddly peaceful to think about not having to work so hard anymore. It is only in retrospect I came to understand more of it.

Long story/short is when Dr.s finally found some answers I began to recover. I wasn't sure I could trust it to last. Salinda's comment about the "dark energy" lingering would describe my own fear at the time.

Now at 80 y/o I would call it betrayal. This is why; my body and closest, most important best friend, that I had taken very good care of had betrayed me. We had a good sized organic garden and a dozen fruit trees and grapes on our small lot. My husband used the garden to recover from a taxing Engineering job. Neither of us smoked, enjoyed a rare glass of wine and our kids were easy. It seemed like an ideal family situation. I did not see it coming and like anyone suddenly dealing with difficult medical issues, did not deserve it.

In my experience with other folks I care about, it seems betrayal is the hardest thing to deal with. Consider the betrayal of a spouse, best friend or boss; can you ever get back to that blissful feeling of trust and well being? I don't know. Yet at this age I can just take one day at a time and feel grateful for it. If I don't break any bones, the PC comes to life, and my small window cooler still works here in Portland it will be a good day.

I believe your current life and attitude will bring you great days ahead.

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