It was a cold winter day in 2011 when I got the phone call that turned my world upside down. I was out to lunch with some co-workers when I looked down and noticed I had missed several calls from my Dad. The fact that he called at all was a bit unusual, as he is a quiet man, but five missed calls were alarming. I immediately assumed something had happened to one of my grandparents and stepped outside to return his call.
Ironically, he was very calm as we talked. A couple of days prior, he had visited the emergency room for kidney stones. The CT scan the doctor had ordered of his abdomen revealed a six centimeter tumor near the head of his pancreas.
In that moment, my heart stopped. Hearing the word “tumor” and “pancreas” in the same sentence sent my brain into a panic. I dropped everything and drove to my parent’s house.
In the weeks that followed, my father had numerous tests and a biopsy that revealed pancreatic adenocarcinoma. That biopsy landed us at the University of Kentucky Hospital in the very capable hands of a surgical oncologist. The tumor had to be removed, requiring the Whipple procedure (also referred to as a pancreaticoduodectomy). The Whipple is an intricate surgery, involving the removal of portions of the stomach, small intestine, pancreas, as well as the gallbladder.
His post operative recovery was difficult; marred by recurrent infection, a 95 pound weight loss, and later, intense reactions to chemotherapy. My parents made countless trips back and forth to the cancer center in the months following his surgery.
Nearly five and a half years have passed since doctors delivered the grim statistics about survival rates. My Dad is extremely fortunate; oncologists consider him “cured” of the rare form of pancreatic cancer he had. He continues to deal with digestive and nutritional issues as a result of his surgery, but they are manageable. While I am confident that this experience is not something a single member of our family would wish on anyone, it has been valuable in many ways.
We’ve all gained perspective.
I am now the mother of four children. There are precious boys and a husband who need and depend on me daily. My dad’s experience with cancer was a shocking catalyst for change. It was also a reminder of a humbling reality; we get one life. One body. We must care for and nourish it to the best of our ability. Often it seems that mothers put themselves last, caring for everyone else first. While I wholeheartedly believe in humility and self- sacrifice, we must preserve our one body so that we are able to care for those we love. You remember that oft- used illustration of putting the oxygen mask on yourself as the plane is going down, so you can administer aid to those around you? That’s true for us too, mamas.
Small modifiable behaviors can have such a positive impact in your health! Make it a point to do the following:
- Schedule a yearly exam with your primary care provider
- Call to see if you are due a pap smear, mammogram, or colonoscopy
- Check into smoking cessation programs in your community
- Get moving. Even if it is 10 minutes on your lunch break!
- Drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day
- Take inventory of the habits you want to modify
Ladies, I urge you. Let us seize the 10 remaining months of 2017 to take care of self, so that we can better care for our families. I’m not (necessarily) suggesting radical lifestyle changes, rather simply starting small and making progress.
I would love to hear your health goals or progress for this year! Reading your comments are such an encouragement to me and will likely inspire someone else!