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Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Clinical Trial Gives Hope...

When mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, we were swamped with decisions on her treatment... chemotherapy and radiation were the traditional treatments recommended in hopes of shrinking the tumor enough for surgery...but we also looked at alternative therapies and debated the merits of nutritional supplements and diet.   And at some point in the dark hours we even threw in the possibility of a clinical trial... everything was on the table for consideration.  We were in battle mode and we were fighting hard for mom's very survival... 

We so wanted to hear success stories like the one I'm about to share with you.  There is nothing more encouraging than talking with a cancer survivor that knows where you are and understands the gut-wrenching struggle you are wrestling with... Kim Vernick has been where you are and she shares her story with pluck, humor and tenacity.  Her journey involves the decision to participate in a clinical trial.

Clinical trials are not for everyone...nor is Kim's story going to be your story... but what if, (whisper it loud), what if there's a clinical trial out there that finds the Cure for Pancreatic Cancer???  There is a cure...I know it deep in my bones (I dream it for each one)...and one day soon... One Day Soon, Pancreatic Cancer will become a thing of nightmares past, for each of us.

Thank you Kim for sharing your journey and bringing Hope to the table...

      by Kim Vernick

No this is not a mental illness even though I think I would prefer it to be.  This alien is cancer.  Why me, I ask? I have never been sick a day in my life unless you count colds.  I am an avid tennis player and a pretty good one I may add.  I even dappled in yoga for a year prior to acquiring my alien.  Yoga was fun but it was not easy for me as I am not your most limber sort.  Walking was great…I could walk indefinitely but had to be aware of the time so I could return home before dark. 
I was 52 when I was told I have pancreatic cancer.  It must be a mistake but after two hospitals that specialize in pancreatic cancer confirmed the same thing following a battery of tests performed at both institutions, yes I have cancer.  Okay…now I must tackle this head on.  I will survive this.  My advice to all of us with such aliens…stay off the internet.  But no…how can you when you need to find out as much information as possible.  But the internet had me dead and buried multiple times.  Yes, I will be in that small percentage that makes it.  So as the doctors told me, I must prepare for the marathon ahead of me.  That’s right, “this is a marathon and not a sprint.”  Personally I prefer sprints as running was never my thing but since I was now in great physical shape and mentally I am a real tough girl, I was going to beat this alien.
I did keep a medical diary of all that transpired during the year of my marathon.  I participated in a clinical trial, which would beat me up even more but increased the chances of reaching the goal of getting me to that surgery table.  I consumed drugs to stop the nausea, others to help me from the ensuing constipation caused by the anti-nausea drugs, more to follow to stop the diarrhea when the anti-constipation drugs kicked in….oh and the vomiting.  Yes of course there was vomiting but there was nothing to stop that…thank you chemotherapy.  But on the other hand…really thank you chemotherapy.  After all was said and done they did get the alien.  My surgeon stepped to the plate, after my oncologist and radiation oncologist killed the alien, and successfully removed my alien with many of my internal body parts as well.  Apparently I do not need my gallbladder nor my spleen nor 2/3 of my pancreas.  Fortunately I am left with the part of my pancreas that is necessary to produce enzymes for digestion and to keep me from becoming diabetic.  So now I am one year from surgery, drug free, and feeling great when the doctors informed me that I have a suspicious thickening near my gastric junction, in the same place as before.  After another battery of tests it is discovered that my alien is back in the same area. 

So I retire my tennis racquet for a few weeks, clean out my tennis bag as I always keep snacks in there and we do not want mice in my coat closet.  Continued walking but it is really too hot for long walks.  Get mentally tough!

The good news is that it is in the same area so it did not spread.  The bad news is that it is in the same area and I am pretty messy and damaged in that area.  The doctors are now ready for plan “B” and I am now ready for round “2.”  We are a team and we need to do this together.  So the plan is they will beat me up yet again and hopefully my alien will be obliterated…end of story…never to return...

Proton radiation is a specialized form of radiation therapy.  I asked about this therapy two years ago but they were not using it for pancreatic cancer at the time.  Okay, now I get to use those protons.  So on my not so comfy mold of my shoulders and arms I will lay on the table while they blast me with protons.  Don’t move a muscle but I can breathe normally.  Arms raised above my head, knees elevated comfortably with a rounded pillow pad like a massage table…don’t move as we do not want to miss.  Thirty minutes…what do I think about for 30 minutes?  The beach on a Caribbean island, I can do that for a few minutes, what about the other 25 minutes….alien be blasted…alien be blasted…get it get it rah rah rah. 

Emotionally I am trying to stay strong but in reality I am scared.  There are too many what ifs to think about.  I am trying not to go there at all.  My family is going through this too in a different way of course.  They don’t want to lose their mother, wife and they are worried as well.  Also, the marathon affects the entire family not just me…the victim…or patient…I feel I am more of a victim.

I am ready for this and I will beat it again with the help of my doctors.

Well round two was over a year ago and I am feeling great and having fun living life.  The first time was a clinical trial protocol of chemotherapy and radiation and then surgery and then more chemotherapy.  Round two was protons and chemotherapy.  I will be forever grateful to my doctors, friends and family.  But we also must remember to stand and stay tough as it is our responsibility to make sure we get the best care and take care of ourselves.  I hope I do not have to participate in any more of these “marathons” but know I can if need be.

I am cancer free and feeling great!

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