The most important thing I’ve learned from a life-threatening illness is always get a second opinion.
I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October 2018. Since then, I’ve had my spleen removed, battled five months of chemotherapy and survived several bouts of cellulitis in my legs.
I had my last dose of chemo on May 10 and, soon after, met with a surgeon who was to remove a chunk of my pancreas and the nasty tumor, but the surgery was not scheduled. Over the summer I was able to take a couple of short vacations and organize my personal belongings. I had several more scans and met a few more times with the surgeon.
As August loomed, something felt wrong. The cough I had suffered with during chemo came back. But it was much worse. I couldn’t say more than two words without setting off violent hacking.
At my last visit with the surgeon in September, he suggested I see an ear, nose and throat specialist for the cough. I found out later the surgeon was not going to be in the office until mid-October and my next appointment with him wouldn’t be until November.
I saw my primary care physician for the throat specialist referral. He also gave me a referral for a surgeon at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica.
St. John’s center is state-of-the-art, I was told by the volunteer leading me to the elevator. She was in remission after being treated there. The gorgeous lobby looks more like that of a Palm Springs resort. During my appointment, I saw the surgeon I’d been referred to, along with another physician who is part of the fellow program at the health center.
They had studied my past scans and were concerned with a lymph node above my left clavicle. It was swollen and possibly the cause of the coughing. They ordered a needle biopsy to rule out that the pancreatic cancer had spread to the lymph node system. The report found that there was cancer present in the lymph node, but the St. John surgeons weren’t sure what kind.
I returned to my medical oncologist in Burbank, and he thought it might be an endocrine problem, not cancer. To be sure, I underwent a PET scan. That report says it’s the same cancer I have in the pancreas. So, on Nov. 4, I began a second round of chemotherapy.
My oncologist has ordered a different prescription that will be administered twice a month through January. He believes this time around the medicine will completely eradicate the tumor, and I won’t need surgery to remove the pancreas.
The first dose knocked me off my feet for about 10 days, but I’m feeling stronger and ready for the next infusion. I feel confident I have the right medical team working on my case and that I am headed for complete remission. Had I waited until the first surgeon was able to meet with me again, the cancer in the lymph node might not have been discovered until sometime later, delaying treatment.
I hope readers will learn from this column how important it is to get a second opinion. Don’t be timid when it comes to your life. Be a lion!