The 4 Signs of My Wife's Pancreatic Cancer That I Wish We Recognized
My wife, Emilee, experienced four to six months of symptoms before being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer – most of which were ignored and pushed out of consciousness.
1. She was depressed.
But that was not really a symptom that was foreign to her - she had struggled with depression intermittently over the years. So, depression alone, did not necessarily sound an alarm.
2. She had been losing weight.
Although she was happy to be losing weight, she was suspicious as to why. Her eating habits had not changed, and she was not exercising.
3. Her energy level was not what it usually was.
But then that was written off due to the depression.
4. Her skin color didn’t look quite right.
She looked like she had used self-tanning cream that had gone yellow instead of bronze. Not quite big-bird yellow, but not far off either.
When I encouraged her to let me take her to the emergency department (E.D.) and get herself checked out, her response was to wait. That was on a Saturday. It wasn't until we woke up on the following Saturday, that she asked me to look at her skin color. There was no question something was wrong.
On the way to the E.D, I was worried. Emilee knew something was very wrong. She felt very weak. She was computer savvy and knew how to do a search and I believe she already had an idea that this was serious, I just think she was in denial for a long, long time.
Plus, she did not like going to doctors, most of them frighten her. She would joke about me, who goes to the doctor at the drop of a hat. Emilee, on the other hand, has to be extremely ill and uncomfortable before going. The last time she was sick she had legionnaire’s pneumonia, about 5 years ago.
When we arrived at the E.D., she was so weak. She needed a wheelchair from the car to inside. Bloodwork, and a CT scan were ordered.
When the young doctor came into the treatment room in the E.D, he was not smiling. His delivery was straightforward and a little too blunt. His approximate words were, “You have a mass on your pancreas and it is cancerous. It looks like it has spread to both lungs. It is blocking your bile duct, and your bilirubin is extremely high, causing the jaundice. You will need surgery to relieve the blockage. Your blood sugar is also extremely high, and we suspect due to the tumor, that you have diabetes. Your blood sugar is 687 so we need to give you insulin to bring it down. You need to be transferred to the hospital (this was a satellite E.D.) right away. “
Emilee was a smoker. The first thing she had me do before transport to the hospital, was take her outside in the wheelchair for a cigarette. Two, or three, I don’t remember. The last ones for about a month.
Both of us sat outside, crying. I hugged her. We had no words. Devastation, shock, panic.
I think I heard a voice tell us, “This is your Captain speaking. Welcome to the world of cancer. Fasten your seat belts. We are about to encounter turbulence.” One big problem. Emilee does not fly.
Well, she didn’t then. I would like to believe she does now.
Neal is a survivor of his spouse Emilee dying from pancreatic cancer (adenocarcinoma) twenty one months after diagnosis. He is beginning to find new ways of being and living in the aftermath of his wife’s death. He is discovering how to use the creativity born from the grief of losing the life that he knew. He writes about facing the fears of starting over again, and uses poetry, writing, and music for avenues of expression. His website, lifeafteremilee.com, chronicles his journey.