Getting the news that a loved one has cancer can be, to say the least, unsettling. That word, cancer, is accompanied by emotions ranging from fear to anger, but in most cases there is hope. Research has led to treatments. Treatments have led to recovery. My mother was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2000. She beat it and is cancer free today, nearly 16 years later.
However, there are those instances when hopes are dispatched with the monotone voice of an oncologist who can hardly wait to leave the room. All cancer is ugly, but I believe pancreatic cancer is especially so. It’s hard to detect and when it is discovered it’s usually too late for effective treatment. Pancreatic cancer is now the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S., surpassing breast cancer.
Here are just a few people who have succumbed to Pancreatic Cancer:
|Frank Herbert (author of Dune)||Ralph Ellison (author of Invisible Man)|
|Lorraine Hansberry (writer)||Cecil Day-Lewis (poet)|
|Jackie Moreland (basketball player)||Harvey Martin (football player)|
|George Halas (baseball player)||Gene Upshaw (football player)|
|Sally Ride (astronaut, physicist)||Wernher von Braun (rocket scientist)|
|Allan Sandage (astronomer)||Wolfgang Pauli (theoretical physicist)|
|Benjamin Orr (bassist for the band The Cars)||Betty Carter (jazz singer)|
|Luciano Pavaratti (tenor)||Charlie Louvin (singer, songwriter)|
|Patrick Swayze (actor)||Jack Benny (comedian, actor)|
|Donna Reed (actress)||Pernell Roberts (actor)|
|René Magritte (surrealist painter)||Raffi Lavie (artist)|
My father was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer in 2011. Receiving the news was a jarring experience. We were simply told there was no hope. I looked about the room and saw a range of emotions on the faces of loved ones. Anger, shock, grief and disbelief were all represented. My mind whirled with unkind words for the doctor who obviously had no skill at delivering such news. Of course, I didn’t say anything. My modus operandi is to deal with the situation at hand and fall apart later.
After my dad had processed the news he asked me a question. “If they know you’re going to die why don’t they just give you something to let it happen?”
I can’t imagine what went through his mind as he puzzled it all together, the certainty that his death was imminent. I told him, “It’s illegal.”
He spoke of how the lawmakers should have no say in whether you choose to live or die and I agreed with everything he said. As much as I didn’t want my father to die, I also didn’t want him to suffer. Fortunately, we kept that to a minimum. With the help of hospice we cared for him. We watched him lose his appetite. We watched him lose interest in television, preferring to sleep. We talked with him. We listened to his favorite music. I slept in the room with him and my mom. Every two hours I slipped on latex gloves and rubbed pain medication into his wrists and ankles.
He died in the home I grew up in, the house he and my mother built. My mother and I were at his side and saw him draw his last breath. He died with dignity.
My wish is to give hope to those with pancreatic cancer. One organization that wages hope on behalf of the patients is Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Won’t you consider getting involved? Everyone needs hope.