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.
A pancreatic cancer survivor shares why he writes about his journey and encourages other patients and survivors to do the same.
I didn’t set out to write about my tangle with pancreatic cancer when I was first diagnosed. This has been an experience I wish I didn’t have.
Enduring week after week of treatments not knowing if I would make it. Facing complication upon complication made any hint of normal a mirage. The mere thought of who would walk each of my three daughters down the aisle at some wistful church as soft music sifted through the air brought me to a dead stop, wet-eyed and unable to choke out a word. This notion of them walking down the aisle alone crushed me. “Who gives this woman?” answered by silence.
Much like a young GI is startled by a car backfiring and relives a bloody day of combat and remembers a friend he lost that day, the thought of sharing my cancer experiences caused me to relive the terror of those days.
The day the doctor, unable to utter the “C-word” told me, “I’m sorry you have a malignancy,” and then walked out of my hospital room before I could muster a single question. Days when no one offered me much hope I would make it. Days I felt like I had been written off as just another expendable in the war against cancer.
Having a doctor unable to bring himself to say “cancer” did nothing to assure me I would make it. Later during my treatments, it seemed the people who cared for me had already come to terms that my days were few. Every time they looked at me, I could see the blood drain from their faces. It wasn’t that they didn’t care, but rather that they cared too much.
Cancer is relative. There are always others facing a worse type of cancer in a later stage dealing with even more horrific odds. While pancreatic cancer is considered by far the most lethal, with so many more instances of breast cancer, far more die from it. My hope is that in hearing from a person who has thus far beaten pancreatic cancer, someone amid their own cancer battle will be emboldened to believe they can beat theirs too.
Much of the cancer process contorts our minds turning its demonic fury inward ripping us apart. Periods of bliss are followed by episodes of dark hopelessness. One day we feel we might make it, while the next day we feel it’s over.
For me, I knew I might die and accepted this without flinching, but underneath my cool detachment lurked the finality of it all. Things left undone. Memories not created.
I have found writing about these things has helped me come to grips with the fact that I am only one follow-up away from my life once again coming apart. I hope reading about my journey will help others facing a murky future deal with their own torment of getting told their life may be coming to an end. Nothing about this is easy. But everything about it must be faced the best we can.
For five years I struggled with whether I wanted to go public with my story. I wanted to offer hope to others, but at what cost? The whole idea of inviting absolute strangers into the rawest part of my life sickened me. Facing death is one of those intimate things most of us don’t tweet about.
OK, I guess some do, but how can someone begin to explain how the end feels in 280-characters? Some will post about it in places like CaringBridge to a select members-only group of friends and family locked down by a password. But it is another thing to write to the public about how it feels to grapple with cancer and the idea this might be it. Only after years of wrestling with this, and how it might benefit others who are on their own terrifying journey, did I decide to share my up-close experiences, the countless sleepless nights and unending fog of fear I have endured for years.
The thing that has motivated me the most is wanting to bolster those who feel so alone on their journey. Although their families and friends may rally around them, they are all too aware it is still them facing their cancer, no one else. As much as the people supporting us may say, “You’ll beat this” or “Be strong” it rings hollow. After all, what do they know? They’ve never faced anything like this. When I was in the thick of my treatments, I connected with a couple of cancer survivors. Having been in the gun barrel themselves, knowing how harsh all of it can be, their advice often in the form of talking about what they had been through rang true to me.
For me, writing about my journey represents a feeble attempt to share what I’ve learned along the way. Much like someone on a trip to somewhere they’ve never been before tells good friends all about their trip, I want to offer the same to others starting their trip into cancer-land. Although I may never meet these new friends, I trust I am helping them along on their journey.
Choosing to share my struggles — the good, bad and ugly — has not been easy. Many days I feel why bother? Even today, I wonder if my story is relevant to others. But every now and then I get word back from someone who is dealing with their own mortality thanking me for saying what they’ve been thinking. Those days, I realize that this is worth it. When the ink is dry, this is all I ever wanted to do.
This is why I write. If you’re up to it, I would encourage you to share your story too. Who knows who you might help?
For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.