Russ, Our WhatNexter of The Week

by GregP_WN

My cancer journey began in October 2000 with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Surgery entailed the removal of 40% of the pancreas, the entire spleen, a slice of the left kidney, and five lymph nodes.

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I was fortunate that the cancer only spread to the first lymph node, and the others were clear. It was not until years later, when I had the occasion to look over my surgical and pathology reports, I learned that I had adenosquamous carcinoma; a rare, aggressive type of pancreatic cancer with a worse prognosis than the more common type which occurs in the head of the pancreas.

I can now understand why they wanted to treat it so aggressively. They started by implanting a port in my chest for easier access with regard to input of an injection pump, and access to withdraw blood. The injection pump was something I would carry with me 24 hours a day for 5 weeks. It was injecting my system with the 5fu chemotherapy drug. They would send a nurse out once a week and she would flush the port out, draw blood and change the chemo cartridge. I became so used to this pump that I started calling it my Gucci bag. The nurses would always get a kick out of this…just a little humor given the seriousness of the overall picture.

In addition to having chemotherapy 24 hours a day, non-stop for 5 weeks, I was also zapped with radiation 5 days a week during the same 5 weeks. I received radiation on the front left side of my abdomen, on the left side, as well as the backside. Pancreatic cancer is known as the “hidden cancer.” The pancreas is located behind the stomach, and for that reason the radiation has to make its way through the stomach. This caused a severe side effect of nausea and vomiting…I vomited every single day. They gave me, Kytril, Compazine, Atavan, etc., everything including Marinol which is the closest thing to marijuana and still being legal.

As much as our family and friends try to support us, and they do, but they just do not get it. The only way you understand what chemo and radiation has done to you is for you to go through it, and I do not wish that upon anyone. I had several side effects, a constant state of nausea; vomiting, (I vomited every day, and carried a plastic bag wherever I went); red hand, (the inside on my hands would turn red and become very tender and sore to the point of not being able to pick up a utensil to eat); mucositis, (inflammation of the digestive tract with sores on the inside of my mouth and on my lips…very painful); my digestive system was so messed up to the point of having several embarrassing bowel movements, (very humiliating); neuropathy, (damaged nerves…I suffer from shooting pain in my feet, especially at night); fatigue, (something we all suffer from to the point where I would have to crawl on my hands and knees in the mornings until I could get up enough strength to stand and to be able to walk.

There are several other long-term side effects that I suffer from; when they took out 40% of my pancreas I became an instant diabetic; I also had a battle with the shingles to the point where the rash was on the calf of my right leg, my entire thigh from my knee up to my groin, and also on the right side of my back. There is one side effect I have never seen anywhere, and that is “sleep deprivation.” How can you sleep when you find out that you have pancreatic cancer; and now you are going to have surgery; then you are going to go through debilitating chemotherapy and radiation at the same time; how can you sleep comfortably through all of this.

Despite all, that I have endured it is nothing compared to what others have had to deal with in their lives, and I thank God every night for allowing me to live through all of this…and for everything that I have today. I am thoroughly enjoying my life as it is today and I would not change a thing. I am at peace with what happened to me in the past, and I am at peace with what will happen to me in the future. So many things have changed, but the memory of what I went through will be with me for the rest of my life. Even though I am in remission, I do at times allow myself the time to reflect, and feel the sorrow of that day. This is why it is so important for me to be able to tell my story to others who have cancer through WhatNext. It is great therapy, and it gives hope to others to know that this disease can be beat! I still suffer from some long term side effects, but I look at them as my new normal life and they are minor inconveniences compared to where I was at 12 years ago. It will actually be 13 years on this upcoming November 3, 2013. You too can survive this horrible disease. You must defy with a passion everything that this disease tries to do to you.

Those of you who are in remission and having taken this journey yourself you know what it means and what it takes to survive such a horrible disease. Share your journey with others in hopes of providing them with the strength, courage, and hope that they too can survive.
Remember this…when you discover your purpose of being a cancer survivor make it your life’s challenge. For me…my cancer journey is never ending. 

Russ is a #WhatNexter who is showing people that yes, you can survive Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer. Stop by his Profile Page HERE and tell him thanks for sharing his story with us.

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