• Pain brings a diagnosis of the same cancer my mother had
• Very negative doctor leads me to change hospitals
• Chemotherapy with FOLFIRINOX
• Clean scans
In March of 2012 I was experiencing lower back pain. I figured it was due to my age; I was 53 and had three big dogs that I was walking daily. I was also fatigued and would get out of breath fast. I thought it was the onset of menopause due to my age and symptoms. I went to Urgent Care and was given anti-inflammatory medicines. The pain got worse—I almost passed out so I went to the emergency room at a local hospital.
A Scary Diagnosis
Once at the ER I had a scan that showed spots on my pancreas, liver, and lungs!!! I immediately thought of my mother, who died of pancreatic cancer when I was 24! I was scared and full of pain.
I stayed at the hospital for seven days. My tests included a liver biopsy where they determined I had stage IV pancreatic cancer. At the hospital they tried to manage my pain. They also suggested I get a port inserted into my chest for chemo treatments. Upon awaking from that surgery the Pancreas Oncology doctor and his nurse came into the recovery room. He stated that he would now be my doctor and that I would be DEAD in eight months!!!! He said, “Don’t do chemo. It will NOT work for you.”
New Doctor; New Attitude
I was discharged from that hospital and immediately got an appointment at University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. Upon arrival there I saw that Dr. Caio Max Rocha Lima (he has since left Sylvester) had already reviewed my scan. He showed me that the cancer was in three organs and was Very Aggressive!! As I began to cry he held my face in his hands and told me the chemo would work. I couldn’t believe what he was saying but I held onto those words during my treatments.
The following week I began treatment with FOLFIRINOX, my chemotherapy for the next 17 months. Treatment was grueling; I couldn’t eat or sleep. I was down to 90 pounds from 117. I thought I would get chemo the rest of my life, and my life would be very short.
However, every three months I got a follow-up scan that showed the tumors were not only shrinking but going away!!! And with each three-month visit to the oncologist I noticed that I was in less pain and I got really positive that I would be the person to beat this beast!! I believed it!! I prayed and asked everyone for prayers and they were working!!
During treatment I set goals to go visit family and friends. I took some trips to New York City. I grew up in the Bronx so I spent many days in Manhattan with my parents. I have so many memories of my childhood there and I felt the City fill me up. It made me more determined to go back stronger and cancer free!
Giving Back as a Volunteer and Patient Advocate
I had full response to the chemo and have been on Chemo Holiday since July 2013. I now see Dr. Jaime Merchan. I was getting scans every four months but I asked that they be scheduled every six months since the scans continue to be clear.
I volunteer helping other cancer patients and raising funds. I have participated in the Dolphins Cancer Challenge for the past two years and will be doing my 3rd 14-mile bike ride as part of the fund-raising on February 10, 2018. I am also on the Patient and Family Advisory Council at Sylvester as well. I have spoken in NYC as the Survivor Speaker for Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. I also have spoken at various events on behalf of the Dolphins Cancer Challenge and Sylvester.