We have heard a lot of stories about different types of cancers and how women have pulled through their terminal battles. Pancreatic cancer is one of those terminal diseases that affect women. Some have lost to the dreaded battle, but there are some who have managed to pull through despite the numerous other illnesses that come along with a failing liver. Peggy Kessler had a stage IV pancreatic cancer and she pulled through it. Here is her story:
“You have two months to live. Go home and get your things in order.” Those were the words I heard in July 2001. Just days before, I had walked 18 holes in a golf tournament and that evening I thought I might have food poisoning. After a few days, I still didn’t feel any better. A friend told me that my eyes looked yellow, so I went to the doctor. I soon heard the word “CANCER”—not just cancer—but stage IV pancreatic cancer with metastasis to my liver. My first thought was, “OK, let’s get it fixed.” But my doctors replied, “You don’t understand, it is inoperable and incurable.” That’s when I was told I had just two months to live.
To relieve my pain and jaundice, a tube was inserted into my side to drain backed-up bile. They put a leg bag on me and said I would live with that for the rest of my life. The doctor told me to go home and get my affairs in order.
My family and I decided that I needed a second opinion. My sister Pam and my caregiver Jana were busy searching the Internet and making phone calls, trying to find some place that would offer hope. That’s when my younger sister Beth called and told me that her in-laws had a friend who had been treated for pancreatic cancer at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) and that they had saved his life. Pam got on the phone right away and called the CTCA® 800-number and talked to an Oncology Information Specialist. They seemed to know exactly what we were going through, were very informative and answered all of our questions. I was scheduled for an appointment within the week. I needed to get help as soon as possible as I was losing weight, could not eat and I was in terrible pain. Not knowing I was full of infection from the insertion of the biliary tube, I was able to get some pain medication. Pam and Jana put me in a wheelchair and accompanied me on a plane to the CTCA in Zion, Illinois. The first thing I remember was entering the lobby of CTCA and seeing the tree of survivors. I said I’m going to get my name on that tree!
CTCA began treating me right away for my infection, got my pain under control and confirmed the diagnosis. I could not believe how fast they were able to do all the tests. They did more in one day at CTCA than my hospital back home did in a week. When they scheduled me for an X-ray at 10 a.m., I had my X-ray at 10 a.m. I thought, WOW, these people know what they are doing.
After three days of tests, I asked my surgeon how long I had to live. He said he could not give me my “expiration date” …that date was “in greater hands than his.” It was at that moment that I realized someone had offered me HOPE! If I was willing to fight, they would fight with me.
The doctors then explained a very aggressive treatment plan, which began immediately and consisted of five days of FUDR leucovorin with one day of intra-arterial mitomycin platinum. I spent 26 days in the hospital fighting an infection in my body, along with a collapsed lung. During my stay in the hospital, I felt like I was surrounded by friends and people who really cared and who gave me hope. Everyone was so pleasant, from the person who cleaned my room to all the nurses, doctors, kitchen staff—everyone.
Each morning at 10, the group of CTCA health care professionals would come into my room to see me. By doing this, they could all hear at the same time how I felt and could answer any questions I had for them. Also, as soon as I arrived at CTCA, they started me on a regimen of vitamins that I continue to take to this day. I don’t know if it was the vitamins or my prayers, but I never lost the hair on my head even with all the chemotherapy. Each time they did tests, it showed that the tumors had shrunk.
After five months, my platelets were too low to continue with the original treatment, so we went to plan B. I then started on a regimen of oral chemo, and within months, the tumor could not be seen at all on the scans. I have been off chemo since November 2002.
At present, I take Prilosec® once a day and the vitamins that were recommended to me by CTCA. I enjoy spending my time working full time, riding my horses, camping, golfing, traveling, and being with my friends and family. Through the excellent care that I received at CTCA and the constant love, support and prayers from my family and friends, I have stayed positive and set goals for myself. I have talked to numerous patients and many of them say, “I wish I would have found CTCA right away.”
So many hospitals treat you like a number, but at CTCA they treat you like family. I was very fortunate to have found CTCA so soon after my diagnosis. I, like most people, wanted to be treated close to home, but I truly believe if I had, I would not be here to share my story. I continue to count my blessings every day and have recently taken on the opportunity of becoming South Dakota’s Team Hope Leader for an organization called the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. I hope others that have been diagnosed with this disease and are not satisfied with what they have been told will call Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Remember there is always hope and as the song goes by Lee Ann Womack, “you have a choice to sit it out or dance”…“I Hope You Dance.”
They always say, “Cancer changes your life,” and it really does. I feel like every day is a blessing and I truly live life to its fullest. This summer I will be putting on my sixth annual golf tournament for pancreatic cancer. I’m a social golfer, avid camper and I love horseback riding. In fact, I even take my horse Cider camping with me. I also continue to go to work, simply because I can.
I remember telling myself when I was sick, “If I survive, I want to give other people hope.” It became one of my goals to help other people by offering support and encouragement. I enjoy talking to survivors and pancreatic cancer patients regularly, and volunteer for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
I firmly believe people who set goals live longer, as Dr. Granick, my medical oncologist at CTCA, once said to me. One of the other goals I made when I was sick was to continue my annual trip to the Black Hills. I’ve only missed the trip twice—once when one of my horses gave birth and the other when I was sick, which was in 2001. I was determined to make that trip in 2002. Boy, I sure did, and I have every year since then.
Each year I try to travel to places I’ve never been to. I’ve been considering visiting Yosemite in California, Alaska, or maybe the Grand Canyon.
I enjoy taking a scenic road trip to CTCA at Midwestern Regional Medical Center once a year for my checkup. Every time, it’s like going home. In 2006, I attended Celebrate Life® at the hospital. It was fantastic! My family and friends came with me. I spoke at the ceremony and then we celebrated with a big party. They sure do know how to put on a party!
Speaking of parties, each year since I was diagnosed with cancer, my friends host a great party that’s very much like our own Celebrate Life. Every year they come up with a different theme and name. To name a few, the first year it was the “Tumors are Shrinking Party.” Then there was the “No Glow Party,” when my PET scan came out clear. Another year it was the “Portless Peggy Party,” because my port had been removed.
My wonderful friends are my good luck charms. To this day, we always gather for a dinner before my trip to CTCA for a checkup each year.
I shared my thoughts about what it was like to become a 10-year pancreatic cancer survivor and answered questions people had submitted to CTCA about my cancer journey and life today.
Source: Cancer Treatment Centers of America