Cancer Fact Friday

Today I want to share a story of a survivor of Pancreatic Cancer. With such low rates of survival for this form of cancer it is rare to hear survival stories. Today I feature my Aunt Shelly and her story. She’s been an inspiration to me and so many others, I hope you enjoy.


Aunt Shelly in the middle of her youngest daughter Gabrielle and Me after completing her first 5K race ever last weekend!

When were you diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (year/age)? 2005 at 47 years of age

How were you diagnosed? Because I had a screening scan, my generalist discovered “a little something that we should take a closer look at.” I was healthier than ever before – doing boot camp every month, great numbers in terms of cholesterol, blood pressure, heart rate, etc. We initially saw something on my liver, which ultimately was non-cancerous, but the tumor on the pancreas was…

What made you get tested? After having lost both parents at young ages to aneurisms, my dad’s physician acknowledged aneurisms aren’t hereditary, but suggested all my parents offspring get scanned because it was very unusual to lose both parents to vascular problems. They transitioned nearly 20 years apart but it was still a medical mystery, so along following the advice of my general practitioner, we agreed to do a pelvic scan given I didn’t have any symptoms supporting a cranial scan (no bhp, no headaches, etc). Interesting note – my physician wrote the “order” and I held it for so long, the scan tech wanted me to have her re-write the requisition. One year after Dr. Malone wrote the order I had the scan and as divine order would have it, my timing was just about right. A year earlier would likely not have presented the tumor as it was detected very very early and was small enough to be removed with great margins. I’m not really proud of having waited a year for the scan, but my doc and I agreed there was no urgency since I was very healthy at the time, very fit and wellness was a lifestyle choice I embraced, it seemed the message to me was to wait… thus I did and it worked out well. I consider this my “tap on the shoulder” by my Lord – He didn’t have to stomp on me and roll me back & forth to get my attention, but instead whispered to me – this is your wake up call – what & how will you serve my people…

What treatment options did you have to choose from? Interesting question – because my tumor was in the tail of the pancreas, I was convinced surgery was required. As a believer in holistic approaches to health & healing, I was confident there had to be some course of treatment that wouldn’t result in a scalpel invading my flesh. After tens of conversations with friends, siblings, physicians, surgeons, naturopaths, oncology radiologists, and more, my husband and I agreed we might be looking a gift horse in the mouth if we didn’t operate sooner than later.

Which did you choose and why? Another interesting question. I chose surgery, if that’s what you mean, but after interviewing 3 surgeons, we quickly narrowed it to two, each with very different approaches to my tumor. One would likely leave me insulin-dependent and envisioned an aggressive approach. This was at a teaching hospital, with access to all the latest research and techniques. The down-side here (at least for me) was that the lead surgeon, in fact the one who had the most current-day experience in the country using a procedure called “whipple” would be coaching through the procedure while a resident (albeit very experienced) would perform the actual surgery. The other hospital, while a superior facility with award-winning surgeons, they were most known for delivering superior customer service. As one who believes each of us has the power to heal ourselves, it was important to me to be in an environment where “BELIEF” was a big part of the healing process. Having practitioners who were encouraging, had time to care for their patients and who combined holistic approaches to their cases was vital and I opted for the less-accomplished, more caring team. In fact, the morning after I was able to get a foot massage bedside – I’m sure it helped with my recovery!! Dr. Assad Hassoun was my choice and I couldn’t have been more pleased with the process & outcome. I knew the surgeon was a small part of my health episode. I knew I was in the hands of the most mighty healer and my prayer was for Him to lead me to the right hands to do His work on me…

What was recovery like for you? My recovery was great and again, I credit belief in my recovery, coupled with a nutritionist I saw in advance of surgery to take supplements & vitamins we thought would accelerate healing, including my scar. I was back in boot-camp in 6 weeks (albeit with modified participation) but back out there non-the-less. Kevin Allen at Namaste fitness in Emeryville was a terrific fitness partner & coach, I saw a reiki practitioner, had a massage therapist apply light treatment to my scar so as to minimize scar tissue forming. All in all, it was great. I had a setback on my first night home with my drainage tube and ended up back in the ER – it didn’t last long though.

What helped you get through the recovery process? Mostly described above, but more than what I did, what helped the most was having the love and care of those around me. Because I’ve lived all over the country and come from a family of supporters, I had friends from all walks of life and from all periods of my adult, teen & adolescent lives show up to cook, clean, walk, talk, laugh, drink wine and just be around. It truly was an embarrassment of riches and I know for sure their prayers, notes, attendance, cards & laughter were a big part of my recovery. There truly weren’t any blue days – I never questioned “why me” and along with my husband, daughters and doggie, we just hunkered down to handle this thing like it was any other project that needed attention. In our first Christmas card after surgery I scribed “I would marry him all over again” as I pondered how grateful I was (and still am) for my husband’s participation and attitude. I might add, that at the same time I was diagnosed a dear friend and neighbor was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He was visibly ill, deteriorating right before our eyes, so it was tough to wallow in my situation when by all accounts I appeared to be healthy and vital. We ultimately lost our dear friend and it was again a reminder that it simply wasn’t my time to be called home to be with my Lord. My faith was probably the single factor that directed my journey & outcome…

What advice do you have for people who have been diagnosed and the families helping them get through it? BELIEVE you are here for some reason – have faith and believe that it’s not possible for faith and fear to occupy the same space. I really embraced that saying – it carried me.

Would you like to share anything else about your experience or life in general? Just DO YOU – whoever that is – be that, tell that, share that, with enthusiasm and with vigor. BELIEVE that you have work to do here and if we can sit still long enough, we’ll hear what that work is supposed to look like. Thanks for the honor and privilege – my story is just one of so many, I am grateful to be able to write you today. To God be the glory!

A big THANK YOU to my Aunt Shelly for sharing! I hope this story inspires you. Do you have a story to share? Whether you are a survivor, fighter or a supporter we want to hear from you!

Know the facts and pass it on😊

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4 thoughts on “Cancer Fact Friday

  1. I’m not sure if you remember my friend Ingrid she use to work for Pbk, and she was at my baby shower at Linda’s house. Her mom lost her battle to Pancreatic Cancer a just few months ago. Your Aunt Shelly is definitely a inspiration. Great story !

    • Oh yes I do remember her. I’m so sorry to hear that. I must say since choosing to run for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, loads of people around me have told me about friends or family members who have died from this awful disease. GEEZ!!

  2. Danielle Gines

    A beautiful story, Jillian! Keep it up, girl! I’m so proud of you and your beautiful family

  3. Thank you Danielle!!

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