William Ramshaw resides in the expansive Pacific Northwest. He is a six-year survivor of pancreatic cancer and has written a memoir Gut Punched! Facing Pancreatic Cancer.
There aren't many upsides to getting diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, except for the fact that I lost 100 pounds and now look good in skinny jeans.
For someone who is taller than 6 feet, I used to wear my weight well. My wardrobe consisted of 48-inch waist jeans from Costco and XXL fleece pullovers. None of my clothes screamed GQ Magazine, but it fit my personality which was comfortable.
I used to eat anything I wanted. I would consume combo pizzas, shredded beef enchiladas, cheesy quesadillas, meat lasagna … basically everything I shouldn't have been eating.
I loved apple fritters — you know, the ones with big chunks of apple that are deep-fried and covered in cinnamon sugar. Yummy, especially if you happened to get one straight out of the fryer. I didn’t shed the pounds, but instead I put them on.
Before bedtime, I would often eat a heaping bowl of vanilla ice cream. It was always the good stuff, and not that low-fat kind. I excused this by covering it with fresh strawberries, peaches, or sprinkles of blueberries. Where there is a will, there is a way to make it OK to eat bad stuff.
Back then I sort of knew being overweight put me at a higher risk for heart disease and diabetes, along with various cancers. But like everyone, I thought it couldn’t, and wouldn’t, happen to me. I had thought about it, but there's a chasm between thinking about something and doing something about it. That chasm consists of not getting off my butt.
Like most, I would push trying to lose weight off to next week, or next spring, or next summer for sure. I contemplated all the weight loss plans out there. I even joined Jenny Craig and lost a few pounds, but I was larger than I ever was in no time.
Over the years, I serially dated several gyms but never found one I got along with. Newsflash: Being a member of a gym is not the same as showing up. If you don't go and go a lot, what's the point? (Well, OK, we all get a pass thanks to this COVID-19 thing.)
All of this happened before I was hit with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer; a type of cancer that so few survive, it's considered a death sentence.
Thanks to my pancreatic cancer, and a subsequent Whipple procedure to remove my tumor (where the top third of my pancreas was removed), I lost a hundred pounds, or a third of my weight. My diet plan was barbaric, and I would not recommend it.
Losing all that weight would normally be a godsend, especially in our look-at-me culture, but I had to trash much of my wardrobe and buy new clothes in much smaller sizes. In fact, I think the local thrift stores are still trying to clear my old stuff out.
Another result of my pancreatic cancer is that I can’t gain weight. With part of my pancreas missing, I don't produce enough digestive enzymes. To help me process food, I must take them. They cost about $2,000 a month which, thankfully, is covered by my insurance. But I feel for others whose insurance doesn't cover these things. What are they supposed to do, starve to death? Without these enzymes, food passes right through the body without nourishing the person.
One might say this is a blessing and it largely is, but it can be a little scary to eat full-sized meals and not gain a single pound. If I don't take enough enzymes, I lose more weight. And if I take too many, I feel bloated. It's an ongoing struggle. But considering the other option — not being here – I am happy to struggle.
I avoid going down the frozen food aisle at the local supermarket where the processed foods beckon me from behind their see-through doors. I don't need all the fat and added sugar. Sadly, no more frozen pizzas, or at least fewer of them. No more apple fritters (Well, OK, maybe one or two a year). I go for smaller bowls of ice cream, if at all. I've found sugar-free pudding to be a great stand-in for ice cream. And I go for a walk, or work in my yard, four or five times a week, if not more. My life really depends on these things.
There aren't many upsides to getting diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, except I can now wear (and look good in) skinny jeans.