Have you ever looked at a situation and wondered why? As in, why is this so, or not so? And why isn’t this being addressed?
I have gone through something like that lately, dealing with something unexpected in my life. I discovered there was a mass murderer on the loose in the world, killing indiscriminately, regardless of race, creed, sex, age and socioeconomic standing. The mass murderer to which I refer is pancreatic cancer.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, pancreatic cancer is ranked #4 on the list of cancer killers. The following figures are a compilation from the National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society. I highlighted the 2013 statistics for pancreatic cancer, so they could be more easily visible for you.
Estimated New Cases
|Breast (Female – Male)
||232,340 – 2,240
||39,620 – 410
|Colon and Rectal (Combined)
|Kidney (Renal Cell) Cancer
|Leukemia (All Types)
|Lung (Including Bronchus)
Percentage of patients deceased within 5 years of diagnosis:
1. Pancreatic cancer – 94%
2. Liver cancer – 83.9%
3. Esophageal cancer – 82.7%
4. Lung cancer – 83.4%
5. Stomach cancer – 72.3%
6. Brain cancer – 66.5%
7. Ovarian cancer – 55.8%
8. Oral cancer – 37.8%
9. Kidney cancer – 28.2%
10. Rectal cancer – 33.5%
11. Colon cancer – 35.1%
12. Laryngeal cancer – 39.4%
13. Cervical cancer – 32.1%
14. Prostate cancer – 0.8%
15. Breast cancer – 10.8%
16. Bladder cancer – 22.1%
17. Skin cancer – 8.7%
18. Uterine cancer – 18.5%
19. Thyroid cancer – 2.3%
20. Bone cancer – 33.6%
21. Leukemia – 44%
In the last 5 years, pancreatic cancer has listed film star Patrick Swayze and Apple mogul Steve Jobs among its most famous victims. Pancreatic cancer is so deadly because it is usually not found until patients are symptomatic, and by then it is usually in more advanced stages.
Many pancreatic cancers tend to be swift growers, with times between diagnosis and death for most patients measured in weeks or months. Battles with pancreatic cancer are, as I titled this post, swift and deadly seasons for many patients, measured in weeks or months, instead of years as is the case for most other cancers. As you saw in my compiled statistics above, the 5 year survival rates for pancreatic cancers are shockingly low.
Breast cancer is discovered through self-exams and mammograms. Prostate cancer markers are found through a simple blood test. Colon cancer is found in a colonoscopy. Lung and throat cancers are found through x-rays and other tests. Melanoma, a form of skin cancer, is found when areas of the skin are seen to change. The only way to find pancreatic cancer is when a patient arrives at their doctor’s office, complaining of its symptoms. And by then, it’s far too often too late. There are no currently viable tests for early detection of this deadly disease.
The media was very vocal about Patrick Swayze’s and Steve Jobs’ fights with pancreatic cancer. Now, I want to tell you about someone lesser known and no less loved. Her name was Barbara.
Barbara was born on July 2nd in Albany, NY. Her father was a graduate of Virginia Military Institute, VMI. His exploits there were so legendary, a movie was made, called “Brother Rat,” and Eddie Albert played him. By the time Barbara was born, he was a entrepreneur, who would later be quite successful. Barbara’s mother worked for the railroad.
Barbara was a studious child. Her parents were divorced, and her mother remarried several more times to a succession of step-fathers of varying character. Barbara went to both public and parochial schools, and eventually graduated with high honors from high school. Offered a full-ride academic scholarship to Syracuse University, Barbara gave up college to marry her high school sweetheart, George, and the pair settled briefly in Florida while George served in the Navy, where they started their family.
After George left the Navy, the small family returned to their hometown and settled down. While they looked into moving elsewhere once or twice, nothing ever came of it, and they raised their family in the same town where they grew up. All their children graduated from the same high school, and a couple of them even had one or two of the same teachers. George and Barbara were active in their church life, and encouraged their children to be active church members, too.
As their 5 children started to leave the nest, George and Barbara began to travel together. First was Maine, then a cross-country trip and then another one into the South. Eventually, after retirement, they explored maritime Canada. Barbara also traveled abroad with one of her children, going first to the Holy Land (Israel, Jordan and Egypt), and later to The Netherlands, where that adult child had moved with their family.
There was an esophageal cancer scare for George, and then a spinal stenosis (bone spur on the spine) for him, but they beat that, and celebrated their 50th anniversary with a cruise to Alaska on a small ship. Barbara considered it a great victory to get George on any type of cruise at all, which had long been a dream of hers. Unfortunately, within 2 years of that wonderful time, George’s cancer resurfaced, and he lost his long battle to it 6 days prior to their 52nd anniversary.
After some time of attempting to live on her own with live-in help, it became obvious to Barbara’s family she needed to move into an assisted living facility. Always opinionated, independent and stubborn, Barbara didn’t like the rules one bit. Eventually, her health demanded she move about 2 years later into another facility that was more comprehensive, which she liked even less.
On Sunday, February 9, 2013, Barbara went as usual to church, complaining of nausea. She looked jaundiced and felt unwell, thinking she had a persistent flu-type virus. Diagnosed as a diabetic over 15 years before, her blood sugars were erratic at best, swinging wildly up and down. Later that day, Barbara insisted on being transported from her assisted living facility to a local hospital. She never went back.
Monday, the hospital found a mass in her abdomen in an MRI. They tried to do an endoscopy Tuesday, but were unable. It was decided to move her to the regional major medical center Wednesday night, hours prior to a major winter snowstorm. At the medical center on Thursday, they did the endoscopy, and confirmed it was advanced pancreatic cancer.
Within days, her 5 children and many of her 10 grandchildren knew Barbara’s pancreatic cancer was inoperable and untreatable. Barbara was moved into a local nursing home with Hospice care on February 25th, where she spent her final days.
When asked, Barbara said she wanted to be remembered “As a woman who loved her Lord first, and her family second.” She had definite opinions, clearly stated to family members, for her final arrangements, with her wake at the same funeral home, services at her church, burial next to George and a luncheon back at the church after. She told them what she wanted as part of her service, and was very clear about it.
Barbara would be among the first to tell you she was not perfect. “A sinner saved by grace,” was what she often said of her imperfections. After George died, Barbara found her life’s purpose of caring for him over, and struggled with finding another so late in life, while grieving his loss. Her grief and lack of purpose often appeared in overwhelming neediness and anger, which drove away the people to whom she most wanted to be close. Thankfully, in late December of 2013, Barbara finally found peace with herself and her situation, and the anger and neediness largely disappeared.
Barbara was always a woman of wry wit. One of the vacations George and Barbara took often with their family was wilderness camping. When asked by a friend who was well to do (and took fancier vacations, like European tours), what the family did when it rained, Barbara dryly deadpanned, “We let it.”
Barbara had great patience with the antics of her 5 rambunctious children, 10 grandchildren and multiple great-grandchildren. Her younger son was especially skilled at jollying her into good humor when he’d misbehaved, much to the consternation of the rest. Barbara was also strong-willed, which was a good thing, with 5 strong-willed kids.
By now, dear reader, if you’ve followed my blog, read my family stories and gotten to know me a little, you’ve guessed Barbara was my mother. I initially wrote this on March 11 and edited it in the days between then and now, knowing she was dying and wanting to capture my thoughts on Mom and her killer. Before she left us, I read it to her, and received her approval to publish it. I knew I’d be unable do more today than publish it. My mother Barbara’s swift and deadly season, her battle with pancreatic cancer, ended today, and she is at home in Heaven with her Lord and her beloved George.
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”