Kay Kesser: A Family Tree Bent but Not Broken by Pancreatic Cancer


Pancreatic cancer has defined my family’s medical life since I was 13 years old.

My mother was diagnosed at the age of 44 and died one year later. Since that very sad day, I have lost both brothers (one passed away 11 days after diagnosis, the other three months), two aunts, and two first cousins to this vicious disease. If there was anyone who understood the importance of regular screening and early testing, it was I.

Despite being BRCA negative, I knew there were risks associated with being Jewish of Ashkenazi descent. I was regularly screened for pancreatic cancer locally at home in Virginia. My primary care physician flagged my chart with my family history to call extra attention to my scans. I insisted my adult children also educate themselves about their genetic history.

So you can imagine how shocked, betrayed, and defeated I felt when I got my own diagnosis when it had already progressed to stage III. I was so sure of my near-term outcome that I put my favorite CD of soothing music in my nightstand for my family to play for me in my final days when I would not be able to request it myself. (I’m a planner.) That was in 2015.

Eight years, six doctors, one trial, and three different protocols later, I’m still telling my story, bearing witness to the power of grit, the blessing of family, the dedication of doctors, and the brilliance of modern medicine.

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