Thanks so much to everyone for all of the prayers and support we've received over the last month. We'll be using CaringBridge.org to provide quick and timely updates to anyone who wants to follow us on this journey. But first - a quick timeline for how we got here:
2013: Mom met with her GI doctor (Dr. Ender in Raleigh; she's had lifelong GI issues) and inquired if the issues she was having at the time might be related to gallbladder. Doctor Ender ordered an ultrasound to investigate. The gallbladder was normal, but the ultrasound showed a shadow in the head of her pancreas (not where today's mass is; it's in the tail). A CT scan was done to investigate further. The scan was clear and they concluded the questionable spot was just a shadow on the ultrasound - a bad picture. Nothing to be worried about. So, we went on our merry way...but the concern persisted for Mom.
January 20, 2017: Fast forward to 2017. Her GI issues were giving her more trouble than usual. She was working with her new GI doctor and his staff (Dr. Byrd in New Bern) to determine the cause of those issues - which, among other things, include occasional issues swallowing. While there for a swallow test, Mom mentioned the 2013 scans to the PA and noted that the nagging feeling from that 'shadow' has never gone away completely. In a LIFESAVING move, the PA suggested that they do another CT scan - for "peace of mind". It was that scan that revealed the mass on the TAIL of her pancreas (note the original shadow was in the head - a completely different area of the pancreas. The original scare really was just a shadow.).
February 15, 2017: Dr. Regan in Greenville, NC did an endoscopic ultrasound to biopsy the mass and examine the rest of the pancreas more thoroughly.
February 17, 2017: Dr. Regan confirmed that the mass is consistent with malignant cancer and referred Mom to Duke for further follow up and treatment. The findings from Dr. Regan's procedure indicated that the tumor is contained, it does not appear to have metastasized, there are no visible signs of cancer elsewhere, the lymph nodes are clear and no vessels have been affected. All of these findings likely mean that surgery is an incredibly viable option (HUGE WONDERFUL NEWS) and that, based on the position, they should only have to remove part of the tail and the long-term effects should be minimal. Initial staging put her in Stage 1B. AGAIN - THIS IS ALL INCREDIBLE NEWS!
Unfortunately, I have a dear, dear friend whose father was also diagnosed with cancer over the Christmas 2016 holiday. I called her for advice and her father graciously shared his doctors' names, as well as the contact info for his Duke Nurse Navigator. We contacted her immediately. She responded within an hour (even though she was out of the office and it was late on a Friday afternoon) and copied in her colleagues. That team of amazing women jumped in, collected all of the information they needed and, by mid-afternoon the following Monday, had all of Mom's initial appointments scheduled. INCREDIBLE!
February 28, 2017: Mom had her first appointment at Duke Raleigh. The staff there was amazing. The details from that appointment are listed below in the first two updates.
Before you read those updates (which are filled with great news), I want to reiterate to everyone what a TRUE MIRACLE this all is. GOD IS GOOD...all the time. And ALL THE TIME...God is good. Y'all....HE has been at work here. He's not ready to take Mom from this earth. He gave her that nagging feeling. He put her in that appointment with a kind and thoughtful PA who wanted to give her "peace of mind". He led us to find that mass EARLY....in STAGE ONE!
Do you understand what a blessing that is? What a MIRACLE that is??
The reason pancreatic cancer strikes fear into the hearts of most people is they typically find it too late. Early on, the mass doesn't create much havoc on your body and is, therefore, asymptomatic in the beginning. As a result, most people aren't lucky enough to find the cancer early. They have no symptoms that make them think anything is wrong. By the time they have symptoms, the cancer has advanced so far (usually to Stage 4) and has invaded so many other areas of the body that there is little the doctors can do. But just like other, more common cancers, early detection is a game changer.....it makes all the difference in the world. Mom's case is no exception. Early detection saved her life.
I've always said that our gut instincts are just God talking to us (I don't think it's a coincidence that both are three letter words that start with G!). God was talking to Mom. He was talking to that PA. And thank GOD (literally!!), they listened.
When we told the kids about this bump in the road Grandma is facing, we told them that God doesn't make bad things happen to us. But He does give us the strength to endure them. And if we let Him, He can help us emerge from the other side of our journey even better. I believe this journey will be just that: an opportunity for us to grow in our faith and to be reminded of what's most important in life. And that, hopefully, others will see God and His miracles at work in our lives and come to know Him and His infinite grace - just as we do.
Thank you all for sharing this journey with Mom and the rest of our family......