Survivor Stories
January 19, 2018 • 3 Min

Don’t Stop Fighting

Leonora Kaufmann

Pancreatic cancer survivor Leonora Kaufmann
  • Intuition leads me to ask for tests for pancreatic cancer
  • Diagnosis: stage I
  • Surgery, then chemotherapy

I told my doctor in 2011, two years before my diagnosis, that I was going to get pancreatic cancer.

I had a very strong intuition that I would get pancreatic cancer. I don’t know if that has saved my life, but it certainly has prolonged my survival. I had no symptoms and no risk factors, but after a co-worker died of the disease, I became very concerned.

My Worries Are Not Unfounded

In 2013 I asked my doctor to please screen me for pancreatic cancer. An ultrasound, CT scan, and MRI came back negative but I asked to see my MRI. I was familiar with what to look for and noticed that there was a minimal dilation of the pancreatic duct. I recalled from an article I had read years ago that this often means the presence of pancreatic cancer. I begged the doctors to do an endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) and they reluctantly agreed. The EUS found cancer. Dr. Peter Turk performed a distal pancreatectomy, followed by chemotherapy administered by my oncologist Dr. Reza Nazemzadeh. My cancer was at stage I, which is very rare for this disease. Unfortunately, we didn’t get clean margins because the tumor was so early, its margins were not well defined.

Along with traditional care, after receiving my diagnosis I went to a homeopathic physician in Baltimore, Dr. Peter Hinderberger, who specializes in complementary medicine. I always ate well, but began eating a well-balanced but mostly plant-based diet with no processed foods, no artificial ingredients, and no sweeteners of any kind. I also take a number of supplements and added a variety of spices to my diet. I continued this regimen during chemotherapy and was the only female in my oncologist’s practice that never missed a dose of chemotherapy. I never got anemic and never got sick. I had virtually no side effects of the Gemzar.

I was fortunate to be diagnosed at such an early stage of the disease. I know this is rare so I am participating in a clinical trial at Johns Hopkins for the development of a blood test for early detection of pancreatic cancer.

I Don’t Take Life For Granted

I didn’t listen when I was told that I was too young, too healthy, and lived a too healthy lifestyle to have pancreatic cancer. Instead, I fought for my diagnosis and my doctors were happy that I did. Because I fought, I am now a five-year survivor.

I am still fighting because surviving pancreatic cancer for five years does not mean you are cured. While only nine percent survive five years, the survival rate drops substantially at 10 years. So I don’t take anything for granted, I just live my life every day and know how lucky I am. I remain actively involved in agitating for awareness and funding for this disease. The more visible we are, the more vocal we are, the more support we will cultivate.

If I could give one piece of advice to someone diagnosed with pancreatic cancer it is this, don’t give up. Remember, no one in the nine percent that have survived five years stopped fighting. Don’t listen if they tell you to go home and die. Demand better.

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