- A promise to get a CT scan
- Stage III diagnosed
- Surgery, then chemotherapy and radiation
In June 2018 I will be a 10-year survivor of pancreatic cancer, all because I kept a promise to my gastroenterologist.
In May 2008 I was planning a trip overseas. At that time, I was having symptoms of an ulcer, which I had been treated for a few years prior. Since I didn’t want to risk getting sick while away, I decided to see my gastroenterologist before I left. All of my tests came back negative but since I had a history of intestinal problems, he made me promise to have a CT scan when I returned. Three months after I got back things finally calmed down. I remembered the promise I made to my doctor and scheduled the scan. That’s when the tumor on the tail of my pancreas was discovered. Keeping my promise saved my life!
After Surgery, a Chemoradiation Cocktail
The tumor was resectable, so I had a distal pancreatectomy in June of 2008 with Dr. Elliot Newman at NYU Langone Health (now at Northwell Health, also in New York). Two-thirds of my pancreas and a number of lymph nodes were removed. In July, after I recovered from surgery, Dr. Deirdre Cohen, my oncologist, recommended a combination of chemotherapy and radiation. I started treatment with eight weeks of Gemzar. After a two-week break I had six weeks of radiation and 5-FU, followed by another six weeks of Gemzar. During that time I had to take breaks between the chemo and radiation sessions because I became anemic.
I had very significant side effects. I lost my hair, as well as my finger- and toe nails, and the skin on my hands and feet peeled off. I had nausea and a metallic taste in my mouth as well as fatigue. Through it all, I ended up losing close to 50 pounds! Despite this I feel I tolerated the side effects pretty well. But I lost out on a very special meeting!
During the period when I was getting the chemo and radiation together, I was in the middle of planning a major black-tie event. I was responsible for bringing in over 100 elite, Olympic, world-class champion female athletes to New York for two days of activities. I made it through the major event—a formal awards dinner—but I could barely make it to my hotel room my feet hurt so much and I was so nauseous. I no sooner hit the bed when Martina Navratilova called to see if I was going to join her for the after party! I regretfully had to turn her down! If I had to turn down an invitation from Martina, I had to really be in bad shape!
My New Normal
I had my last chemo treatment in January 2009 and I have been in remission ever since. I have an MRI and CT scan every year to make sure I am still in remission. The treatment has resulted in what I call a “new normal.” I’ve been left with some permanent residual effects like nausea first thing in the morning. Weak bones from the radiation have resulted in four fractured vertebrae in my back requiring kyphoplasty procedures to stabilize the bones. And I have to take a pancreatic enzyme for the rest of my life. My quality of life is different and a bit more fragile. But I’m alive today because the chemotherapy and radiation combination was successful.
I’m even more lucky that I kept a promise—it saved my life!
Yolanda passed away on July 5, 2019, after a recurrence of her cancer. She won against this disease by living fully for 11 years. We will take the lessons she taught us—courage, resilience, and determination— and use them to help everyone affected by this disease.
Watch Yolanda tell her story in this video.