Surviving and Staying Strong After a Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis

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Topics include: Patient Stories

How do you survive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis?  Meet self-described “pedal-to-the-metal” woman, Anne Gruzdowich, a wife of 36 years with two children, who learned at the age of 59 that she had pancreatic cancer.  Anne shares her story of diagnosis.  But it’s how she’s learning to survive that makes this story different from others.  Anne refers to her style of survival as “therapeutic moments of awe,” a phrase she picked up from reading and has turned it into enjoyment of “small moments of beauty.”

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Anne Gruzdowich:

My name is Ann Gruzdowich.  I'm 59 years old, married with two children.  And in March of 2016 I had some—what I thought, actually, I thought I was having a heart attack.  I had these terrible pains in my chest.  I went to the emergency room.  They gave me omeprazole (Prilosec), saying after doing a series of tests that I was not having a heart attack.  They couldn't find anything wrong with me, thought it was just indigestion. 

I went home, taking the Prilosec.  I took it for about 10 days and started to have these weird symptoms, that I was itching, and I thought, well, maybe I'm having an allogeneic reaction.  And then—so I stopped taking the Prilosec.  About three days later, I turned a lovely toasty shade of yellow.  So I promptly went to my internist, and they thought that I had hepatitis.  So I was tested for hepatitis, came back A, B and C as negative. 

Luckily, my internist was very good.  She sent me—I immediately had an ultrasound, which showed that there was something going on in the pancreas.  They just weren't sure.  She referred me to a gastroenterologist.  So within four days of sort of manifesting this yellow hue to my body, I was already seeing a gastroenterologist.  

At that point, I had a CAT scan, and they determined that I had a tumor at that point, adenocarcinoma, either—pressing up against the bile duct.  About three weeks after being diagnosed, I did have the Whipple procedure.  It was a very successful procedure.  They were able to remove the tumor and with clear margins.  With the pancreatic cancer diagnosis, they wanted to very quickly move to chemotherapy. And so about four-and-a-half weeks after I had had my surgery, I had met with several oncologists, and I chose one.  All of them were recommending the same regimen, which was gemcitabine (Gemzar).  And so I went on to have six months of chemotherapy with gemcitabine on for three weeks and then one week off.  

Again, I was fortunate in that I was able to tolerate it.  Some people are not able to tolerate it, and I was able to take the full course.  So I have just finished that, and I have just had my third CAT scan and got the results back. And at this point, there are no changes from surgery, and so that is very, very good news.  But I will be, my understanding is, monitored probably every three months for the next couple years at the very least, and then maybe it goes outed a little bit further than that, maybe six months, but I will be monitored for the rest of my life. 

I am a person that was always on the go, so for the first time I was really forced to slow down, and it has caused me to reflect a little bit, I guess on my life, and to really take a moment.  I've lived 22 years in the same house, but the first time I really spent much of April and May sitting—when I felt well enough, sitting on my front porch and really enjoying some new landscaping we put in.  We had a bunch of hummingbirds and really appreciating these kind of small moments of beauty.  And that was very, I think, important to my recovery.  

My husband has been this tremendous support.  We've been married 36 years.  He's a chem engineer by training.  He became my advocate, and he has done all the research.  I said I could stay mentally strong.  I think it's really important to have an advocate.  I think that there is so much out there for you that you can easily get yourself worried and depressed, and so he has done all of the reading and kind of said, okay, here are our options.  And he goes with me to all my appointments and asks some very tough questions, and it's just been wonderful to have that type of support from him.  

My family, I have brothers who can't remember my birthday who call me every week to make sure I'm okay.  They have been amazingly supportive, come out to visit.  And then friends from the community I live in, from going to infusions, walking with me, bringing me food, bringing me comfort clothes, calling me all the time.  Those have been a super key component of my recovery. 

For me, I hope that—I mean, both of my—both oncologists I spoke with talked about a cure given that I was kind of in that smaller group that was able to have surgery and came out with clean margins out of that surgery, and then was able to do the whole chemo.  I certainly am hopeful that I'm cured, but I'm also a little realistic about it. 

So my hope is that I live each moment.  I try to have awe in my life and joy in my life, that I choose joy and awe and happiness, that I will routinely, every three months be tested by a CAT scan.  Right now I'm cancer?free, so that's super hopeful.  I'm looking at this as a manageable.  I'm a cancer survivor, and it's a manageable disease, the way they're telling me.  And so that's—that's my hope.  

And my hope is that they come up with—that there is a cure.  There is so much going on right now that I hope that within the next, I don't know, two to five years, that there's a cure for it. 

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

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Page last updated on January 24, 2017