When it Comes to Cancer, It’s Not Over Until It’s Over

A pancreatic cancer survivor offers others advice on what to do when they feel like their journey is over. In short, don’t give up and it’s not over until it’s over.

When I received the news that I had pancreatic cancer, I thought it was over. I figured it was time to close things out, choose where I wanted to be buried and who would do my goodbye service.

But now, nearly seven years since my diagnosis — when few see two years and most don’t see five — fortunate doesn’t come close to describe how I feel. Beyond elated is better, but still not close. When I was diagnosed, I didn’t think I’d be there for any of my three daughters’ weddings. Two of them are now married. Will I get to see any of my grandkids? The jury is still out.

I only mention this to offer hope to those out there who just got their diagnosis. The first thing a lot of people do is rush out and update their will. And if their cancer hasn’t consumed them yet, they then charge off to see a travel agent to plan a trip to somewhere they always wanted to visit. Sadly, they forget to breathe and to live.

Often, the most important things that need to be done when receiving the cancer news are within a breath’s reach. An “I love you!” to the partner of many years who has hung in there with you. An “I’m so proud of you!” to a son or daughter who has struggled for years to earn your approval. Being kind to the person who delivers your mail rain or shine, or the harried clerk at the supermarket is a start. Just because I’m having a bad life doesn’t mean I should ruin everyone’s day around me.

No one, not even the so-called experts, can predict the course of anyone’s cancer. Many times, doctors are hopeful for one patient and doubtful for another, yet the one they had hopes for doesn’t make it while the one they had doubts about continues to plug along. There is still far too much unknown about this sneaky sickness that plunges out of a cloudless sky like a hawk onto an unsuspecting field mouse out scavenging for scraps itself.

So, what do you do when you’re feeling it's over?

Plan but don’t dwell on it

When I found out I had pancreatic cancer and might not make it but a few months, I updated my will. And I probably dwelled on it more than I should have. But I can say now for sure it made no difference whatsoever in my outcome. My advice, plan but don’t dwell on it.

Stay clear

There is little benefit to taking the relaxed approach that you don’t have cancer. But, it’s also not good to take it to the extreme and think that you’re toast. Somewhere in between is the right place to be. And it is different for each of us. For me, I needed to look at it straight in the eyes, but this is too much for others. Stay clear.

Get a second opinion

In my case, I had a blocked bile duct and little time to do anything but get my pancreatic tumor cut out. However, from what I’ve observed and read, seasoned doctors have no issue with someone getting a second opinion. I suppose they almost expect it. After all, we’re the ones facing a tough road ahead and not them. If things aren’t clear, get a second opinion.

Ask about participating in a trial if it makes sense

In my case, figuring what I had to lose, I asked about trials, but my doctors felt it didn’t make sense. Looking back, they were right, but I didn’t know this at the time. Like everything in life, there are pros and cons. Although it can be uncomfortable to ask, it’s a discussion worth having with your doctor.

Find an advocate

In the heat of my treatments, facing my umpteenth infection, I constantly had to go into the hospital to get a dump of IV antibiotics. While being hooked up to a pump, a grizzled male nurse named Mike told me, “Find an advocate.” He told me I needed to find someone who would champion my care. He was right. For me, it was Christina, a kindhearted physician assistant. At every turn, she made sure I was being cared for by the right people at the right time. You’ll sleep better knowing everything possible is being done to keep you alive. Do your best to find an advocate.

Don’t give up

Facing any type of cancer can seem like this universe, and the zillions of others out there, are against you. It’s so easy to give up but again everyone’s cancer is different. No one’s outcome is set in cement. Do everything your doctor tells you. Don’t hide stuff from them thinking they don’t need to know or don’t care. Ask endless questions. No matter what, don’t give up.

Again, it’s not over until it’s over. Stay engaged. Do what you must, and don’t forget to breathe. And more importantly, don’t forget to live. It’s not over.