Pancreatic Cancer Survivor

Mary - Pancreatic Cancer Survivor

My name is Mary and I'm a native of Seattle with deep roots in the Northwest. I grew up with five siblings in a family that was highly involved in the community and sports. Camping was our favorite activity and the Pacific Northwest provided lots of beautiful areas to explore.

As an adult I completed my college education and worked for many years in the legal field. Once I had my own four children I chose to homeschool and spent many years advocating for education and wellness, and now work for a nonprofit that helps homeless youth throughout King County.

Ten years ago, my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She was a vibrant healthy woman who died three months after receiving her diagnosis. You can imagine my shock in the spring of 2013 when I was given the same diagnosis. My primary care physician recommended Virginia Mason as a center of excellence for pancreatic cancer care.

Because this type of cancer is aggressive, my Virginia Mason team wasted no time in getting me started on treatment. Surgery was my only chance for survival but because my tumor had begun to invade a major artery, surgery was not an option. The treatment plan was to shrink the tumor so surgery might be possible.

Within one week of diagnosis, I was prepped and scheduled for six months of chemo. During that time I lost my hair, dealt with extreme exhaustion, watery eyes, digestive issues, and many other side effects. When the six months of chemo ended I was declared ready for surgery. It is strange to look back and remember how excited I was to have the operation, but it was my only chance of survival.

I had the seven-hour Whipple surgery on Monday, Oct. 21, 2013, and was discharged five days later — remarkable since a normal stay is seven days to two weeks. Because the surgery showed the cancer had traveled to some lymph nodes, I was also put on a protocol of daily chemo and radiation for five and a half weeks.

Throughout treatment, my Virginia Mason team continuously reinforced the possibility of a successful outcome. Never did they compare my results to others. I was a statistic of one!

It has been two years since my diagnosis and I am doing great. I am a pancreatic cancer survivor! However, I have changed. I am different at the core of my being. Knowledge inspires action and because of all I have learned I am more committed than ever to ending the war on cancer.

My family and friends mean even more to me now because of the bond that was created as we clung to each other to fight this horrific disease. I look back and remember the peace I experienced knowing God was holding my hand and it give me greater peace to live each day with purpose. And finally, the dedication to saving my life that I received from my team at Virginia Mason is humbling and motivates me to help others.

I am deeply grateful that today I have the energy to say "yes!" to activities with family and friends and that I can offer hope to others living with pancreatic cancer.