Living with Pancreatic Cancer

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

MARCH 30, 2018

  Pancreatic cancer is one of the scarier kinds. When anyone learns of a cancer diagnosis, the first thought is: "Am I going to die?", but there are cancers that make that more likely than others. No one gets a promise, but some people get less reassurance and hope than others.

  It is important to remember that there are always people who do well, people who far out live any predictions and sometimes live to a ripe old age to die of something else. I talk to patients about being "an n of one". None of us is a statistic, and all that matters is what happens to our very own personal n.

  I have known many people over the years with this diagnosis, and it hasn't always gone well. But I absolutely know people who are alive and well and living in the NED (no evidence of disease) situation for years. 

  Over the last months, I have been working with a particularly wonderful woman whom I have known for years. She and I first became acquainted when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was very worried about her longevity with that diagnosis and went through long and difficult treatment. Blessedly, she has stayed well. And then she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She has finished chemotherapy and radiation and had surgery, and she is doing great. Again, no one gets a promise, but it is entirely possible that her health will continue for a long time. We have talked a lot about the differences between breast cancer and pancreatic cancer. One surprising thing for her is that this chemo was much easier, probably due less to the chemo drugs themselves and more to the advances in drugs to control nausea and other symptoms since her breast cancer. She speaks eloquently about the difference in peoples' reactions when she tells them of this diagnosis. Breast cancer is so prevalent that it seems everyone knows someone who has been through it, and the shock value is less. Pancreatic cancer is much less common, and has a much more reputation. She has been understandably reluctant to say much about her situation because she then often has to reassure and comfort others--not exactly anything she is eager to do.

  This is an introduction to a series of Patient Voices from The New York Times. This particular link will take you to several stories about pancreatic cancer, but is easy to negotiate the site and read of other situations.

Patient Voices: Pancreatic Cancer

Karen Barrow

It is estimated that 9 percent of patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survive past five years. What is it like to be faced with such statistics? To survive? Here, in their own words, are the experiences of three men and women. 

Do you or does someone you know have pancreatic cancer? Tell us about how you manage your condition.

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