Two weeks ago, I underwent exploratory surgery to identify why I continually get pancreatitis. The first time I had it was 7 years ago, at a time when I was running more than I am now, was thinner and rarely drank alcohol. I was hospitalized for it then, and again two years later. The third time was in March of 2020. I refused to go to the hospital because I knew what was wrong with me, COVID had just hit the U.S. and my husband had just been released from the hospital after being in a coma and on a ventilator. There was no way in hell I was going to leave my family. I sipped broth and Gatorade and water for 2 weeks, had blood drawn nearly every day during that time until my doctor said I could eat a smidgen.
But since then, I’ve had minor bouts of pancreatitis. I could feel the pain coming on and then I’d stop eating for a few days and eventually it would go away. I was tired of living that way, so my doc referred me to the Portland Gastroenterology Center. There are a few specialists there, surgeons in particular, who are kick-ass and are the only ones in the state who do a few things they do. After blood tests and scans, they decided I should have an endoscopic ultrasound where they can get a better look (and sample) of the cysts I have on the tail of my pancreas.
And that’s what they did on January 3rd. It was an outpatient procedure, no biggie, and I went home a few hours afterwards. They did say that 10% of patients develop pancreatitis afterwards, and I joked that I needed to lose 5 pounds anyway, so no worries!
If only I could have eaten those words. I did, indeed, contract pancreatitis, and lost 7 pounds. I finally started to feel better nearly 10 days after the procedure and was able to eat regular meals…for 2 days. Then one night I became tremendously ill for an hour, slept, and was in pain for another few days and ate little. I *think* I’m back on track as of today. I even went for a run on my treadmill, the first run since New Year’s Day. It was very slow and a bit painful, but I felt a huge sense of accomplishment.
Throughout these past two weeks, I started to get my test results. Do you know of MyChart? Many hospitals use it as an online portal and patients have access to all of the notes from the nurses and doctors, as well as the test results. If you read all of what is available to you, you’re getting your results before your doctor interprets them for you. This, my friends, can be dangerous for your mental health.
I read all of my results and, of course, did my own research of what everything meant. Thankfully, the first thing I read was NO CANCER. Yay! Then I read bits about my cysts probably being mucinous cysts and what does that mean? I sent one of the reports that my PCP didn’t get to him and asked him to explain some of it. I already had my interpretation–the cysts can cause pancreatic cancer if not taken care of. Maybe not now, but within the next decade. My PCP admitted that this was not his specialty, but he had the same interpretation. Then he told me to NOT panic and bug the shit out of my gastro doctors.
And I did.
My surgeon, Dr. Rolshud, seems to be a lovely person. We played phone tag one day and finally he explained that he was waiting for one more test to see if I was a high-risk individual for getting pancreatic cancer. (We won’t get those results for at least another week or two.) He did say, though, that because of my history of pancreatitis at such a young age (see what I said about him being lovely?!?), I am more than likely high-risk.
What does all of this mean? It means that if my results come back high-risk, he will remove the tail of my pancreas (distal pancreatectomy). He says there is no question about the surgery if that’s what the test results show. If it comes back low-risk, we have a discussion and figure out what’s best.
I have questions. My first instinct is to remove the tail of the pancreas. My grandfather died from pancreatic cancer, as did some of dearest friends’ parents. I know what happens and it’s certainly not my first choice of how to die. (Although I suppose we don’t usually get a choice, do we?) But will I still be able to get cancer in the rest of my pancreas? And my research showed that more than likely they’ll have to remove my spleen–which is a whole other ball of wax! I have a friend and colleague that doesn’t have a spleen and she has to be extremely careful about everything because she’s immunocompromised. (Your spleen is a huge part of your immune system, but you can live without it.)
What about running? I started to do more research today and some people stop running because it’s not good for their pancreas–yet others do fine. And the recovery? Oy. It’s a 6-8 week recovery process. Sometimes people develop diabetes because the rest of their pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin. Others have to take enzymes (like supplements) forever because they continuously have diarrhea otherwise. After surgery, sometimes you can have stomach leakage.
Oh. My. God.
But…I don’t want to have cancer. I realize this doesn’t stop it from other areas of my body, but maybe we could stop it in one place? I also don’t want to have pancreatitis episodes for the rest of my life. The pain is exhausting and draining and infuriating. Typically, I don’t know what triggered it and then I beat myself up because I figure it’s my fault somehow. After surgery, I’m sure I’ll have to live on a low-fat diet forever and possibly give up any kind of alcohol, but that’s ok. I’ll whine about it plenty, but you’re used to that, aren’t you? 😉
For now, I wait. I try to eat healthy, small meals, and hopefully I can keep up my running routine. I’ll try to throw in more yoga and try to be good to myself. Since the procedure, I’ve definitely become a bit more needy for hugs and love, and long for comfort from both of my parents. Although in this type of situation, I can imagine the worry on both of their faces, then hear their reassurance that all would be well. ❤
Here’s hoping 2022 will look brighter in the upcoming months. Now go eat some ice cream for me!