Written by Barbara Abdur-Razzaq
To date there are no screenings to detect the early onset of pancreatic cancer, as it is often asymptomatic and when one is finally diagnosed the prognosis is grim.
Presently, pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of just 8%. With a rising incidence rate it will become the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. by 2020.
Pancreatic Cancer month is November, and my mission since November of 2015 is to hopefully be support, encouragement and an example of how crucial it is to maintain your health through physical exams, healthy eating, exercise & faith.
My story begins over 30 years ago. I was working for Newark Public Schools. I was a single parent and Newark was having a host of lay-offs in the education arena. I decided to increase my life insurance in the event I was affected by the lay-off and lost the insurance that the board offered. At the time, they came to your home and took blood samples. When my results came back, the agent looked at me and said, “There was something wrong with you blood. See your doctor, have it fixed and then they can proceed with your request.” This was not true. Insurance becomes very subjective at that point because they’ve already deemed you as having a pre-existing condition.
I saw my internist and it was determined that I had high cholesterol and elevated liver enzymes, so we began trying to figure out why and resolve it. I was referred to a gastroenterologist in 2006, which happened to also be my mother’s and had my first cholecystectomy. I was tested for Hepatitis C, cirrhosis of the liver, given an EGD, (esophagogastroduodenoscopy) ultra-sound, CT scan, blood work and a liver biopsy. Even though all tests were negative, I was diagnosed with auto-immune hepatitis. My gastro doctor decided to be mindful of medications he was giving me, avoiding absorption through my liver as well repeating the CT scan and blood work every 3-6 months to monitor any changes. After repeating the many tests, my gastro wanted to prescribe medication because my cholesterol and enzymes were still elevated, but I declined because there was no discomfort or symptoms.
We came to a consensus of altering my diet and me choosing to consult with an Ayurveda herbal consultant as well as doing the Stanley Burroughs; 10 Day Master Cleanser. The results were a decrease in both, but only temporary as far as the doctor was concerned. After a visit in 2010, something was seen on a scan and to rule on the side of caution, a medical decision was made to remove my gallbladder to possibly avoid it becoming cancerous at a later time.
With cholesterol and enzymes still elevated, this time a small dose of Prednisone was prescribed to see if that would reduce the levels. I declined again. I was not interested in being a pharmaceutical experiment or putting a band-aid on a bigger problem, so my doctor agreed to get a second opinion because maybe they missed something over the years.
In 2013, I began seeing the new gastroenterologist who secured my medical records. He ordered tests and my high cholesterol and elevated enzymes were diagnosed as a fatty liver – probably stemming from my parent’s, but both are deceased and apparently asymptomatic, too. I was prescribed a natural drug called Ursodiol, which is the bile from a polar bear (!) and it balanced all of my levels; who knew polar bear pee had this kind of effect!
My new gastro had me on a 3 month cycle of testing blood work and CT scans, which were all fine until February 2015. The office contacted me and left a message with my husband for me to come in. My husband insisted on coming with me. I thought that was a little strange, but he assured me that nothing was wrong and the doctor said he could come because he was taking a probiotic which needed a refill, so I didn’t think anything of it. Upon arriving my doctor figured I was suspicious because normally I’m called and given my results via a phone call. I turned to my husband and started yelling about him withholding information, but my doctor stopped me – reassuring me that my husband knew nothing because it wasn’t his place to disclose anything to me; it was my doctor’s. He began to tell me that the scan revealed a growth about three olives in size, and that he suspected it was cancer that required surgery, but it was out of his wheel-house. He recommended two specialists and contacted my internist who had a referral, too. At that point I hit rock bottom and began sobbing uncontrollably; all I could hear and see was CANCER.
…I was on an emotional roller-coaster until I surrendered to the Creator.
I was an emotional wreck seeing specialists at Sloan Kettering, Valley Hospital and Robert Wood Johnson. I didn’t tell my children, family nor my closet and dearest friends. My husband said whenever, however and wherever I decided to let them know was my choice. He even stated whatever doctor I chose was my decision, no matter where they were located. My feelings were so conflicted and worried about my family, I was on an emotional roller-coaster until I surrendered to the Creator.
I always talk to others and tell them to let go and let God, so I needed to take my own advice and did just that – and never looked back. On July 10th, after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer I underwent eight hours of surgery with a Whipple procedure and finished up a seven day hospital stay at Robert Wood Johnson in New Brunswick, NJ. By the grace of God the surgery – whch happened to fall during Ramadan that year – was a success and no chemotherapy or radiation was required. I was released from the hospital on Eid al Fitr. I can’t begin to explain my humbleness and gratitude to the Creator – I am a miracle! The small percent.
I still have routine exams with my specialist and gastroenterologist and take Ursodiol, monitor what I eat and how much – and if I don’t, my new stomach definitely reminds me! To date, I’m a 2-year survivor, a wife, mother of a blended family, grandparent of ten who retired in 2011 from a thirty-seven year career in education. I made Hajj in 2014, met my eleventh grandchild in 2015. I travel, I read, I exercise. I cook and bake and entertain as much as possible!
What’s my point in sharing my story with you? It’s to get you involved.
My ride or die husband, Wajid and I participated in my first PurpleStride New Jersey 5K Walk/Run in November 2015 because I wanted to share that miracle, my gratitude – and be that encouragement or support for someone else who is struggling. After the walk I was so inspired and overwhelmed with the outpour of support shown that day, I wanted to do more. So the idea was born to create a team that shared my philosophy and experience about pancreatic cancer. In 2016, Team Grateful was created and we participated in the November PurpleStride Walk/Run!
Team Grateful set a $1,000.00 fundraising goal to further support research, awareness and a cure for pancreatic cancer. We exceeded our initial goal and actually raised over $2,000.
If you’re interested in taking part in this year’s PurpleStride Walk/Run, you can join Team Grateful with a donation of $25.00 or more. This amount will allow you to participate in the walk/run as well as receive a PurpleStride T-Shirt. If you choose not to walk/run – a $5.00 minimum donation or more can still be made to Team Grateful.
To register with Team Grateful – CLICK HERE. (NOTE: you MUST indicate your team name – Team Grateful – in order to be properly placed on our team and walk with us!) or call 877-272-6226. Please; walk with us! The more the greater the Team and my gratitude! 😊