Pancreatic Cancer Survivor

Power of Positivity Overcomes Pancreatic Cancer

Laurie MacCaskill’s story begins like so many others: seemingly random symptoms that led to concern and eventually a cancer diagnosis at age 55. She knew so little about pancreatic cancer but was fully aware she would be in for the fight of her life. Years later, her incredible attitude and positive outlook on life provide hope and support for other survivors still battling the disease.

 

At first, I refused to believe I was sick. A small pain in my back and a little weight loss surely didn’t mean cancer. So I was in complete disbelief when my doctor told me it was pancreatic adenocarcinoma, Stage III. It had spread to my duodenum and lymph nodes before I’d even had any symptoms. I was otherwise healthy: I exercised five to six days a week, ate a healthy diet and was diligent with checkups. But I still had cancer and was absolutely terrified.

I began by interviewing a few doctors. When I found the right oncologist, he started me on chemotherapy treatment with capecitabine (Xeloda). Biliary obstructions caused by the cancer required two back-to-back procedures to place a stent, and three days later I underwent a Whipple procedure. After the surgeries, treatment continued with three more years of various chemotherapy drugs, including oxaliplatin, bevacizumab (Avastin), gemcitabine (Gemzar), 5-FU, paclitaxel (Abraxane), CPT-11 and leucovorin.

I continued to exercise and travel, and I kept an active schedule whenever I could. I went to chemo treatments every week like it was just another thing on my calendar. The side effects would kick in a few days after each treatment, so I learned to work around them, getting as much done as possible in the days prior. They usually included fatigue, nausea, mouth sores, rashes and sores on my face that made it unbearable to wash or bathe, neuropathy, loss of appetite and difficulty breathing. My eyebrows and eyelashes fell out, and I lost my hair twice, which was very traumatic. I had intense pain in my scalp and abdomen, and moving was painful and required monumental effort. My doctor kept reminding me that it was important to stay ahead of the pain to help with the healing. I took pain medication and liquid morphine regularly and was concerned that I’d become addicted, but thankfully I didn’t. Hydration infusions helped with the fatigue.

Four years ago I was informed that treatment was no longer effective and that I should get my affairs in order; I only had three to six months to live. It was absolutely devastating, but I wasn’t ready to just give in. Instead, I found another doctor through the recommendation of good friends, and he started me on an IV chemotherapy drug, ceftriaxone (Rocephin), twice a day for 30 days. And it worked! I’ve been cancer-free ever since. I feel terrific, I’m in great shape with a low CA-19-9 level, and I no longer need any medication.

My life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it. I honestly believe there’s a reason for my cancer journey and that we all have the choice to embrace the attitude we want for each and every day. I’m meant to give back and make a difference, and for however long I’m here, I feel blessed to be who I am. Not many people get the opportunity to know truly how much people care, admire and love us while we’re alive, yet it’s a gift I receive daily.

I’m also grateful to be a part of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, where they provide the amazing opportunity to meet with other volunteers, researchers and doctors. I’ve learned so much and have been able to inspire others with a positive attitude and upbeat spirit. After all, when you celebrate life, there’s so much more in life to celebrate!

 

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