Nothing could have shocked me more than being diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer in July 2016. The year I turned 54, I thought my biggest challenge would be seeing my only daughter off to her first semester of college.
Now that I’ve had time to reflect, here are four things I’ve learned as I made my way through doctors’ appointments, scans and treatments.
Bring someone with you
At the time I was diagnosed, the only pancreatic cancer symptoms I had were two little bumps on my left clavicle. I thought they were swollen lymph nodes due to a bad sinus infection, so I went to my local doctor by myself.
In retrospect, I should’ve had someone meet me at his office for the biopsy results. When you get a diagnosis like that, you need support. After that, I made sure to have at least two friends or family members with me at all times — whether I was seeking medical care here at home in Alabama or at MD Anderson in Texas.
Take care of your body
I already followed a mostly vegetarian diet before my pancreatic cancer diagnosis. But I ate massive amounts of healthy food during chemotherapy, because I knew it was important to keep my weight up during treatment. I kind of considered that my job, along with getting enough rest and exercising thoughtfully.
One thing that really helped me out was meeting the kitchen supervisor at The Rotary House. He would check in with me every day to see how I was feeling, and then either make me a green smoothie or some other comfort food depending on my answer.
Control your environment
I stayed in an apartment just two blocks away from MD Anderson while I was undergoing treatment. Instinctively, I knew to hole up there, so I kept it as clean as an operating room. The only place I ever went was to daily services at a nearby church. And because I kept to myself that way, I never got so much as a cold.
Control your thoughts
I was very disciplined in keeping my thoughts positive. I told my body that it could do the hard work of healing. And I never ceased to pray — day or night. It helped that I was surrounded by family and friends who took turns supporting me. And those who couldn’t be there in person sent me photos from all over the world of the most beautiful churches, where they were offering prayers.
I received strength from the many smiles I encountered daily at MD Anderson. I also got two really great pieces of advice there. One was from a nurse right before my very first CT scan. I was shaking and crying in fear of the unknown, but she said, “Wipe away your tears, because they won’t let you see the miracles and angels that surround you.” The second was a slogan I saw on the wall of a massage therapy room at the Rotary House. It said, “Be careful what your mind is saying, because your body is listening.”
And from those moments on, I have tried to follow their advice.