Pancreatic cancer survivor: 3 myths about MD Anderson

I live in Dallas, but when I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June 2017, I chose to come to MD Anderson for my treatment. My husband Jim and I knew it was doing groundbreaking research and offering clinical trials in all areas, and we wanted to be at the very best place with the most options.

We also wanted a firm diagnosis. My physician strongly suspected I had pancreatic cancer, but only because she’d done bloodwork during my annual checkup — and it showed a few of my numbers were off-the-charts haywire. She ordered a CT scan and saw a mass near my pancreas. But I had zero symptoms, so we didn’t know for certain that it was pancreatic cancer until I came to MD Anderson.

Once I started treatment there, I was surprised by some of the misconceptions I heard from friends, often repeatedly. So, here are three myths that I’d like to dispel about cancer treatment, based on my experience at MD Anderson.

Myth 1: You have to navigate cancer on your own.

A lot of patients have this idea that once you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you have to do your own research to understand your disease and get the best care. But that’s simply not true.

At MD Anderson, there are so many resources available to you. And I don’t just mean from the internet. I mean from patient volunteers willing to share their stories and doctors who are extremely open to communication. All you have to do is ask.

MD Anderson even has support teams to help people who are from out of town, out of the country or just don’t understand cancer treatment.

I wish I’d known there was so much information out there back when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. I’ve been a survivor of that now for almost 15 years. But back then, it was frightening, because I didn’t know the language yet. And what I have found since then is that all the “research” I needed was provided by my conversations with my MD Anderson doctors, nurses and technicians.

Myth 2: Cancer will completely disrupt your life.

There’s no doubt that my cancer diagnosis was shattering. My tumor was blocking my bile duct, so I had to get my plumbing fixed surgically before I could even start chemotherapy. That was followed by 30 rounds of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and more surgery. I just started another chemotherapy combination in November, to keep my cancer from spreading.

All of this treatment could have made our lives really chaotic. But it was not nearly as disruptive to our family as it might have been. For one thing, Houston is only five hours away from Dallas, so we can fly or drive down and come home relatively quickly. And when we do need to spend the night in Houston, Rotary House is set up especially to accommodate us. Who knew there’d be an actual lab by the concierge desk that lets MD Anderson patients take care of routine bloodwork five days a week?

Everyone at MD Anderson is a team player, too: always asking if you need help, offering directions if you look lost and just being there as a caring shoulder, if you need that. It’s an exceptional place. All of that combined is what has helped us keep our lives fairly normal, so we can be present for our children and grandchildren when we’re with them. We love that.

That’s why today, I think of cancer as life-changing, but not life-defining. It’s re-fining. And I feel more blessed than ever. Everyone has challenges. But this one has an assist from MD Anderson.

Myth 3: Cancer treatment is one-size-fits-all.

My husband and I chose MD Anderson for my pancreatic cancer treatment primarily because we knew it was the epicenter of discovery and innovation. And I’ve never been more impressed with a group of people focused on one thing.

Everyone there felt like family instantly because of that shared goal: Making Cancer History®. And the multidisciplinary team they pulled together — just to talk about my diagnosis — was the most astonishing thing. Yet, they do that for every patient! The faculty and staff are also in a league of their own, just in terms of compassion, brilliance and commitment.

Dr. Matthew Katz, performed a very, very difficult surgery on me to unblock my bile duct. He did an amazing job. And my oncologist, Dr. Bob Wolff, has often noted that working toward a cure is like running a marathon: you have to pace yourself, make wise decisions and not give up.

That was really profound for me. But that’s the beauty and magic of MD Anderson.

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