Updated: Jan 3, 2020
I distinctly remember the moment I realized how important awareness is. It was a few weeks before my Aunt Dianne (Di) passed away. I sat beside her bed as she described her symptoms leading up to diagnosis. I’d heard them before, but there was something about hearing them in chronological order that brought me to a sad realization. Most of them were nonspecific and wouldn’t raise red flags under any circumstance. But then she said “jaundiced” and “itching,” and my heart sank. I choked back tears. I didn’t want her to see me cry, and I certainly didn’t want her to know what I was thinking.
In that moment, I imagined how differently things may have been had we known jaundice and itching were classic warning signs of pancreatic cancer the same way we know that a lump in the breast may mean breast cancer. She would immediately have been tested. The weeks and months she spent going back and forth to doctors trying to find the cause of her symptoms would have been eliminated. Diagnosis would have come much earlier.
You see, at the time of diagnosis, her tumor was localized. There was no metastasis. However, it had grown to touch the splenic artery that runs through the pancreas. Without the artery’s involvement, the treatment protocol would have been a few rounds of chemo and then surgery to remove the tumor. But because of the artery, she needed more aggressive chemo. Di had 12 rounds, and after her last round, the CT scan showed nodules in her lungs. Eight months of treatment, the cancer contained, surgery scheduled for March 4, 2019, but when the spots in the lungs appeared during her preop appointment, everything changed. Stage IV, surgery was no longer an option. It was terminal.
We’ll never know if the weeks spent looking for answers were the weeks the tumor grew over to the artery. But, this perspective made me understand how critical awareness is. That’s why I write today.
To raise awareness, one doesn't need a headline sponsor or a fundraiser that brings in tens of thousands. A simple effort that costs nothing can lead to impact that is priceless. Spread the word through social media, talk to a coworker, a neighbor, a relative. Explain early warning signs and symptoms; describe the need for progress. Be a part of the movement, the change that the pancreatic cancer community and its patients desperately need.
It’s easy. Here are links to early warning signs, symptoms, and other important details about this disease.