January 2007. The things I’d accomplished in Weight Watchers since my husband, Paul, and I rejoined in the fall (I’m a Lifetime member twice over) were undone during the last two weeks of December. Yes, the New Year was starting just like any other, except for one thing—the itching.
“Kate, I don’t know what’s going on, but I itch like crazy. I can’t stand it!”
I assured my husband, Paul, that he was probably experiencing dry skin and would have to break down, get in touch with his feminine side, and use lotion. So he started slathering lotion on his legs, arms, and torso after showering, and I rubbed lotion onto his back each night before we went to bed. But the itching continued.
“Do you think I’m allergic to something? We aren’t using a new laundry detergent; I haven’t changed what kind of soap, shampoo, or deodorant I use…I don’t know what it could be. Do you think it might be the plug-in air fresheners we’re using in the bedroom?” He took Benadryl. Still, he itched.
And his blood sugar rose. Paul had been had been living with type-2 diabetes since 1999. He was losing weight like crazy on Weight Watchers and expecting to see his blood sugar decrease. Instead, it rose. The folks at Weight Watchers were cautioning him about losing weight too fast, and he was puzzled each time he used his glucose meter.
Paul made an appointment with our dermatologist for the itching and with our family doctor for his diabetes.
We never thought we’d say this, but thank God for Paul’s diabetes. It got him to the doctor…who ordered blood work…which showed high liver enzymes…which raised questions…which landed him in an endocrinologist’s office. A specialized MRI was ordered. And then I got the The Call late one Tuesday afternoon in February.
“Kate, I just heard from Dr. Gangor. He got the results of my MRI. I’m scared.”
The MRI had revealed a mass on Paul’s pancreas. Dr. Gangor gave Paul the name of a doctor at the University of Chicago Hospital for further testing, because “these are often—but not always—malignant.” When Paul asked Dr. Gangor if he should be concerned, his reply was straightforward: “Very.”
I heard the fear in Paul’s voice and forced myself to sound calm. “Okay.” I must have said that a dozen times as I listened to him retell the news Dr. Gangor had given him. I hung up the phone and cried. I called my best friend.
Pancreatic cancer, though not a common cancer, is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths. It is aggressive, spreads rapidly, is often not diagnosed until it is in its later stages, and there are few treatment options available to battle it. (http://www.emedicinehealth.com/, © 2008 WebMD, Inc.) It took the life of musical legends Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Henry Mancini, and Luciano Pavarotti; actor Michael Landon; comedian Jack Benny; and computer scientist Randy Pausch. Patrick Swayze was diagnosed with the disease in January of 2008.
Paul was a blessed man in that he was a good candidate for surgery. Only 15–20 percent of pancreatic cancer patients are. He underwent perhaps the most invasive of all surgeries—the Whipple procedure—on March 21, 2007. When we talked with the surgeon after the nearly 12-hour procedure we learned that he had removed Paul’s gall bladder, part of his stomach, about 5 inches of his duodenum, and a third of Paul’s pancreas which included “a firm mass” (according to the pathology report) measuring 2.5 x 1.5 x 1.5 cm—about the size of a golf ball.
On Saturday, March 21, 2009, we celebrated two cancer-free years for Paul. It’s a quick leap from the last paragraph to this one. But the past few years involved a whole lot more than a few key strokes and a space between the paragraphs.
We celebrated together on Saturday as we did last year on March 21st, and as we will every March 21st for the rest of Paul’s life. Many of you who are reading this have been (and still are) on this journey with us, and we are so thankful for each of you. We’ve welcomed others that are on similar journeys into our lives, and we’ve been able to tell them our experience with a God who has made his love evident and real to us. Yes, we are witnesses. We’re learning to adapt to a “new normal.” We’ve matured in ways we may never have by easier means. And we are thankful…so thankful.