Pancreatic cancer survivor savors normalcy

Relda Marshall’s only pancreatic cancer symptoms seemed benign to her
— stomach pains and belching after eating.

Eventually, Relda saw her local doctor in Mount Pleasant, Texas. He
prescribed an acid-reducer and ordered bloodwork and an ultrasound. A
follow-up CT scan confirmed that she had a two-centimeter tumor on her pancreas.

“It was a shock,” Relda says. “I had never been really sick.”  After
discussing the diagnosis with her family, she decided to go to MD Anderson.

In Feb. 2012, she met with Matthew Katz, M.D., who gave her a definitive
diagnosis: pancreatic cancer. 

Relda’s pancreatic cancer treatment

Katz and Gauri Rajani Varadhachary, M.D., created Relda’s
pancreatic cancer treatment plan, which would include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. “Everybody was caring and professional,”
Relda says.

For two weeks, Relda took an oral chemotherapy drug called Xeloda in
the morning and evening, and received radiation in the afternoon.
Then, she returned home to recover for four weeks so her pancreas
could become firmer for the surgery.

On April 5, 2012, Katz completed the surgery, removing the tumor,
Relda’s gallbladder, spleen, a third of her stomach and surrounding
lymph nodes. He performed a vein reconstruction as well. Because the
tumor had integrated itself into Relda’s pancreas, Dr. Katz needed to
remove the entire pancreas instead of only a portion of the pancreas.

Relda was walking the day after her surgery. After 10 days in the
hospital and two more weeks in Houston, she returned home with an
order to take Gemcitabine, an intravenous chemotherapy, for four
months with a local doctor.

But shortly after being discharged, Relda developed jaundice and
returned to MD Anderson, where Katz’s team
discovered a blocked biliary duct. She received a drainage tube that
is replaced every three months.

A new routine after pancreatic cancer treatment

Without a pancreas, Relda requires insulin shots. For the first two
months after the operation, she also needed a feeding tube.

MD Anderson clinical dietitian Maria
Petzel and nurse practitioner Carol Clegg showed Relda’s husband, Pat,
how to help. “I would tell Pat all the time, ‘I don’t know what I
would do without you,’” she says.

A mission and routine after pancreatic cancer

During Relda’s pancreatic cancer recovery, low energy, digestive
problems and her care sometimes felt overwhelming. “I would have a
two-minute cry, and then I would just not keep going there,” Relda
says. “You just have to stay positive.”

Relda resumed eating solid foods a couple of months after surgery.
By seven months after the surgery, she’d lost 40 pounds, which meant
her clothes didn’t fit. Although she’d retired from her position with
the county’s auto registration department after her pancreatic cancer
diagnosis, Relda still wanted a mission and a regular routine.

For a while, that mission became finding new clothes. “I would get
up, get a shower, get my makeup on and go shopping,” Relda says.
“Emotionally, I needed a pick-me-up. It was my therapy.”

In Jan. 2013, Relda began using an insulin pump, which helped
simplify her care. She and Pat also began writing cards and visiting
others in their community who were sick. “We knew how much the support
meant to us, and we wanted to be there for other people,” Pat says.

Optimism after pancreatic cancer

Nearly five years after her surgery, Relda remains cancer-free and
positive about the future.

The Marshalls credit MD Anderson for
giving Relda more years to live. “I told Dr. Katz that God is my
heavenly hero, but he is my earthly hero,” she says. “You want to come
to the best place with the best people and equipment if you’re ever
stricken with cancer.”

The couple now travels regularly, and they never go a day without
saying, “I love you.” Relda cherishes living a normal life.

“Everyone has circumstances that make times in their lives
difficult. You just need to make the most of your situation,” she
says. “I’m going to live a normal life. That’s my advice for survivors
and caregivers: live as normally as you can.”

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by
calling 1-877-632-6789.