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PC Symptoms and Jamie’s Story

image2Symptoms of pancreatic cancer can be weight loss, abdominal or back pain, diabetes, or jaundice. Physical symptoms are not very specific to the disease and are often mistaken for something else. Patients can even be asymptomatic. The bottom line is pancreatic cancer is hard to diagnose and even harder to treat. Nikki Mitchell Foundation is working hard to prevent, detect and cure pancreatic cancer.

Jamie Thornton, a friend of NMF, shares the story of her father’s journey:
My father, James Drury, was a Vietnam veteran (a captain and platoon leader), a general manager, and a great leader and father. He loved life, outdoors, people and food. He was a heavy-set guy and we were excited at first when he started to lose weight, but when he started having severe pain in his stomach, he finally went to the doctor. The doctor was positive about his weight loss and encouraged him to keep cutting back on food.

Around November, a few months after the initial pain and losing 50 pounds, he started hurting a little more when he ate and I talked him into going back to the doctor twice. By the end of the week we had a diagnoses of a tumor in his pancreas. After a slew of hospital visits and tests, we found out he had two pancreatic tumors, with one on a lymph node, liver tumors, and spots in his lungs. The oncologist recommended he start chemotherapy and also participate in an additional clinical trial that might decrease the spread of the tumors from the lymph node.

Throughout all of this, Dad was very positive and strong in his faith and believed that with any outcome he was a winner because he either got to stay with us on earth or go to heaven.

We scheduled the chemo and he made it through only two treatments. After the second round was over, Dad could barely stand up. He had an adverse reaction to the drugs, wound up in the hospital twice, and then we were told he only had a few weeks to two months to live. We were sent home with hospice care.

We were blessed that Daddy came out of hospital feeling better this time and over the next month, as the chemo left his body, he was able to return to some fun activities that he enjoyed like fishing, shooting and visiting with friends he hadn’t seen in years. He actually had a full pain-free week once and felt like maybe he was cured. Then, at the end of May, and after watching my daughter graduate from middle school, he started declining rapidly. A week and half later he was gone. I believe he is a winner in that he is in heaven and he has left a wonderful legacy to his kids, grandkids, friends and family. He maintained a wonderful outlook throughout the whole experience.

We experienced some difficulties, like doctors not being clear about survival rates and honestly explaining to us what to expect. I also wish we had known earlier that weight loss is a major indication that something is wrong and that maybe he could have had a chance of beating the disease.

Living Every Day

dana and nikki

Dana Zieman and Nikki Mitchell

Dana Zieman wrote candidly about her battle with pancreatic cancer in Georgia’s Rome News-Tribune for a year until her death in April of 2016. On August 6, 2015, she wrote: “In beginning this series of columns, I hope to express some of the emotions, reactions and ideas we cancer patients experience on our journey through this disease.” From the outset, her writing demonstrates a robust fighting spirit as Dana frankly discusses how it feels to be told that the cancer you thought you had beaten had returned.

Dana describes the highs and lows she experienced as the “most extreme roller coaster ride of [her] psychological life.” Dana’s strength and positivity mirrors that of Nikki Mitchell herself, who kept an online journal to chronicle her thoughts as she battled her own diagnosis. There are many parallels between these two extraordinary women. Their insights can aid, inspire, and encourage both patients living with cancer and the friends and family that rally against them.

As Dana wrote, “I didn’t understand the wily, teasing and ultimately maleficent nature of this ugly disease. It was determined to have the last laugh … but here’s how we tough, bald, eyebrow-less, often emaciated and physically weak patients respond: ‘We’ll see about that.’”

PART I

ACCEPTING HELP:

“No matter how informed we are, getting a diagnosis of cancer shocks. It strikes fear and denial and emotional paralysis into even the most intrepid souls. We all know that cancer is a leading cause of death. But we never believe we will be the ones to get that particular call from the doctor … There are any number of ways to get the news. And once you hear it, life is never the same.”

Dana writes about how accepting help can sometimes be difficult, especially as a woman who values her independence: “My advice to cancer patients is to remain independent when you can. It’s good for you. When you can’t, however, let the people who love you help. Their doing so benefits you both … My advice to friends and family: Don’t always take the patient at his/her word. Sometimes you need to override their decisions and take charge in a very concrete, unobtrusive way…No matter how independent we have been, we now need assistance, all kinds of it. We must allow ourselves to accept it, even to ask for it.” Allowing friends and family to help is immensely valuable, as many people don’t know what to say or do when a loved one is diagnosed. Proactively helping out with basic tasks, like mowing the grass, running errands, cooking meals, or hiring a house cleaner can be a huge help to patients with cancer.

NMF president Rhonda Miles was Nikki’s caretaker for the 31 months she battled pancreatic cancer and was at every doctor’s appointment, procedure, and hospital stay. Nikki said, “This is not something you beat alone and I am sending you a hug for staying with me! I am close to a time that I can resurface to the place I once knew to visit and ‘come out and play’ again. A special place in my heart to those of you who have shown the depth of your friendship even when I was unable.”

LIVE EACH DAY TO THE FULLEST:

From the start, all of Nikki’s blog posts were overwhelmingly positive. Even when faced with recurrence, she focused on the positive:  “I am EXTREMELY grateful that I am able to grow forward from all of this. I am not sure I would have learned what I have any other way…One of the main (of hundreds) of things I have learned through all of this is…Why waste a moment worrying about something that may never be? And if something does unfold, then worry is not an option. It does nothing but weaken the spirit and spin your wheels in mud.” In keeping with her positive outlook, Nikki said, “One of the amazing ‘up sides’ to all this is that I know now without a doubt – I have felt the power and the healing of this incredible gift you each have given me…In other words, it can always be worse so grab the saddle horn and bring it on…for the better good, of course!”

Dana also felt that living each day to the fullest was incredibly important. She issued “a plea to say what you should, now and every day … We shouldn’t look at the people we love with the thought that they might not be here tomorrow. Or for that matter, that we may not be here tomorrow. We couldn’t enjoy our lives and the many joys we share if we always anticipated the darkness.” Her thoughts on how to do this were to “make our small gestures of kindness a reflex.” She believed it was important to not dwell on mortality and to just focus on the day ahead and that attitude and outlook play a critical role in the healing process.

The attitudes, values, and positivity embodied in Dana and Nikki’s writings can aid patients living with cancer and their caregivers alike. Dana says  “Begin the day with this mantra: be kind, be expressive; find something positive to say to others; love your family and friends.” Living Dana’s mantra and embracing Nikki’s positivity can change everyone’s world for the better.

Read Dana’s full articles here.