I was visiting my family in New Jersey around the week of the 4th of July. I like spending at least 10 days while I’m there to see my Mom and my 3 sisters. Mom turned 90 this year so it was special. Her birthday is actually on the 5th of July so we get to combine lots of parties into one. I also get to crash at my youngest sister’s place with her husband Dave and their huge family of all-grown offspring. Good times!
I arrived on the weekend before the 4th. Was feeling a little under the weather but naturally I figured it was just jet lag. Then on that Saturday I started experiencing what I’ll euphemistically call, “digestive distress”. Again, I didn’t think about it too much because the Imodium kept it under control and I just figured it was due to the shift to a meat-intensive diet that is common with most folks, from my home diet where meat is more of a garnish than a main ingredient. This kept going on throughout the whole visit. As I said, that was 10 days of fun and a daily Imodium, so it was stable and controlled, but I had to really watch my hydration, since I found out that I had to drink almost as much water as the food I ate. I could show signs of dehydration within an hour of eating.
I got home and it didn’t go away. I still went to work and so on. I even tried one of those “teledoc” services, which was worse than useless since the “doctor” ignored my statements that I’d been experiencing this for almost a month continuously, and simply told me to “fast for a day”. I’d already done that because my appetite was dwindling fast. I mean who wants to eat a lot when you have to pile in an equal mass of water on top of it?
After about 2 weeks, on a Friday I came home from work and Melissa, my sweet and wonderful partner said, “you look really yellow.” I looked in the mirror and yeah, >boing!<, I was really bright yellow. Even the whites of my eyes…like a high visibility tennis ball kind of yellow.
So it was off to a walk-in clinic, who sent me to the emergency room. My insurance covered the Evergreen system so I used the ER in Redmond. They did blood tests, and an ultrasound, and then scheduled a CAT scan since the ultrasound didn’t reveal anything seemingly blocking my bile duct and no stones in the gall bladder either.
After getting the CAT scan the next week I got a consult with a gastroenterologist who told me that although they couldn’t see a tumor I had most of the signs of pancreatic cancer, and that it may be blocking my bile duct. His specialists group couldn’t do the dual endoscopy I needed to get a biopsy so he referred me to the Virginia Mason Gastroenterology Group on “Pill Hill” in Seattle.
By then we’d gone all through July. I was still yellow. I lost about 20 pounds by then too.
My endoscopy was on the 7th of August. I can’t even begin to say the words for what they did. My memory isn’t so good, so I’ll just quote the procedure document: “Esophagogastroduodenoscopy, endoscopic ultrasound directed fine needle aspiration, followed by endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, sphincterotomy, pancreaticobiliary stent placements.
That 2nd to last word was good though. They stuck a stent into my bile duct to get it flowing again. In 3 days I started to feel good and could eat again. They also confirmed the cancer diagnosis and got measurements. The little bastard tumor is about the size of a small slug and is kinda wrapped around one of my really important veins. They called it “Stage II/a or b, borderline resectable”, meaning that I would probably survive the surgery to remove it as long as I got a round of chemo to make that bastard slug shrink a bit. My surgeon assured me that he could handle the vein too.
OK, so I got one of the worst forms of cancer but we found it relatively early and I’m being treated by one of the best centers for pancreatic cancer treatments in the world. OK, I can deal with that!