Dr. Errol D. Toulon, Jr.: A Fighting Spirit


In 1996, when I was just 34 and the captain of the New York City Department of Corrections, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Reeling from shock, I dreaded I wouldn’t live long enough to see my two young sons graduate from elementary school. I immediately underwent treatment with chemotherapy and radiation. As one of the side effects, I lost my hair, but I never lost my fighting spirit and clung to my doctor’s assertion that my family and I would get through my illness together.

Despite some setbacks, my treatment worked, and my family and I went back to living the lives we had before cancer changed everything. For the next five years, my annual scans showed no evidence of disease. Six years after my lymphoma diagnosis, the unthinkable happened: I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My cancer was discovered incidentally; I went for a routine post-lymphoma monitoring appointment, and my oncologist ordered a PET scan, which was a new test at the time, and which revealed the mass on my pancreas. This diagnosis was a gut punch, and I was terrified I couldn’t beat cancer a second time, especially as formidable an opponent as pancreatic cancer. I feared I wouldn’t watch my sons graduate from high school or experience all of life’s important milestones with them. My maternal grandmother had died years earlier from pancreatic cancer, which heightened my panic even more.

A New Cancer Challenge

Ironically, two days after the PET scan, I became jaundiced and started experiencing other pancreatic cancer symptoms. My cancer hadn’t metastasized, and two specialists agreed I was a candidate for the Whipple surgery, which would give me the best chance for long-term survival. I underwent the grueling 10-hour procedure to remove part of my stomach, the head of the pancreas, part of the bile duct, the gallbladder, lymph nodes in the area of the pancreas, and the duodenum, which is the first part of the small intestine that connects to the stomach. As I was being wheeled into the operating room, all I could focus on was my crippling anxiety that this could be the last time I saw my family, and I made sure to tell them how much I loved them. In fact, I was so afraid of not surviving the surgery that I even prepared a suit for my burial.


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