Survivor * Speaker * Motivator
Just the Facts about Laurie MacCaskill
Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers with a five-year survival rate of just 10 percent. In the United States it is the third most deadly cancer, and approximately 70 percent of patients die within one year of diagnosis. We know early detection and prevention can change this.
Louisa May Alcott said, “I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.” That is exactly how I feel. Over the last 16 years since my diagnosis, I have been learning how to navigate my life through surviving a deadly disease.
How did I discover I had pancreatic cancer?
My first symptom presented when I was getting dressed one evening. A lightning bolt of pain, starting at the top of my head, flowed through my entire body as if I was being electrocuted. I almost passed out. The feeling of fire disappeared after a few seconds but not the pain in my lower back. I was not exerting myself in any way, simply getting dressed.
After that point, the discomfort was a constant, never subsiding. The pain was debilitating at times, making it difficult to walk or get out of bed but mostly it was annoying. Days later, I scheduled a doctor’s appointment, which left me asking more questions. For two months, nothing changed with my constant back pain, and I still had no explanation. Numerous doctor visits left me even more confused. They all had an opinion, but no solutions. I was told I had a pulled muscle; I should stop exercising. I had gas and should “take an enema.” It was my imagination; I should put my feet up for a change and slow down a bit. The entire time I believed I had an infection, but I never once considered cancer a possibility. I was expecting an antibiotic would relieve the pain, and that would be the end of the story.
Then they discovered a bleeding ulcer, which was surprising as I had no abdominal pain and never saw a speck of blood. But strangely this made me happy because I thought I had a source for my back discomfort. However, treating the ulcer did not change my symptoms. The back pain was now a constant in my life. I begged my doctor for more tests. “Let’s do a scan,” I suggested. An endoscopy confirmed a devastating diagnosis.
“Laurie, I am sorry. You have pancreatic cancer.”
My response, “I do not. That is a death sentence. You have the wrong file.”
When first diagnosed I did everything I could to prepare myself for this fight by putting a plan in place and advocating for my best care.
June is a very special month for me. It marks my sixteenth year as a pancreatic cancer survivor and it is National Cancer Survivor Month! I am honored to team up with REALM IDx, and its companies Ambry Genetics and Invicro, to proudly celebrate all of you survivors in the cancer world. We applaud your courage, determination, and perseverance to never give up. Throughout this month, I will share with you how I managed expectations and used my mindset and vulnerability to redefine the lens through which I view life. You will learn about the latest research, resources, genetic testing and more to move forward as your own best advocate!