Survivor Stories
October 21, 2020 • 2 Min

A Heart Scan Finds Pancreatic Cancer

Barbara Washburn

Pancreatic cancer patient Barbara Washburn
  • Pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer seen on a heart scan
  • Surgery to remove the tumor
  • Volunteering to help others

My pancreatic cancer was found because of a proactive heart scan.

In 2017 my annual physical was scheduled in February. Because February is women’s heart health month, and my family has a history of heart disease, I requested a heart scan. That scan came back great, but something was detected on my right side.

I followed up at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, with an ultrasound, a CT scan, and of course blood work. My doctor found that my adrenal gland had spread and had growths on it, and there was a growth on the tail of my pancreas. Fortunately, the growths on my adrenal gland were benign, but I had pancreatic cancer. In hindsight I realized that I had symptoms, including a backache and bloating, normal kinds of symptoms for many women. I had digestive issues on and off for many years as well. Like the other symptoms, I didn’t think anything about it.

The Next Steps

The pancreatic cancer was neuroendocrine. Dr. Andrew Page, my wonderful surgeon, said I was fortunate because neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer is more treatable. I felt lucky it was caught early because the disease could have become much worse.

I was able to have surgery to remove the tail of my pancreas, plus my right adrenal gland and spleen. Although surgery was successful, I had a seizure the day after and fell. Apparently, I was Code Blue (a medical emergency) and my entire body shut down. I was in the ICU for four days, which I have no memory of, thankfully.

After Treatment

So far I have been extremely lucky. I have not had to have any further treatment. I see Dr. Kevin Nguyen and have an MRI every six months. There are a few small spots on my liver that have not increased in size and are too small to biopsy, as well as a small spot on my thyroid, again too small to biopsy. I guess one could say my treatment is having scans!

After I recovered from surgery I became involved with PanCAN to spread awareness and encourage others to pay attention to their bodies. There is no known cancer in my family, so I am very lucky and blessed to be here thanks to amazing doctors.

Once I was diagnosed, I wanted to find out what organizations were out there working toward a cure. I came across PanCAN and was grateful I did. I am a very active volunteer in Atlanta, working to raise awareness of the symptoms.

I have just been diagnosed.

What should I do?

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