December 16th, 2016 - The Day Life Changed
December 16th, 2016 – The Day Life Changed – Gail’s Story… I had only had some vague symptoms over the prior few weeks. Looking back, they probably started shortly before Thanksgiving. We had the wonderful opportunity to have all of our children (4 daughters, 2 son-in-laws, and our grandson) together in Nashville, TN for Thanksgiving as our daughter, Lauren, and her husband, Dan, now live in Nashville. I felt great. We had a fantastic time together. A few things didn’t feel right with my stomach, but hey, I was eating differently around the holiday as most people do. But I noticed that my clothes felt looser which didn’t make sense as I was eating more than usual. I admit that this raised some concern, but the next week, I had a medical conference in Baltimore. I was planning to spend Sunday night with my brother, Jay, in Washington DC and then stay with my daughter, Andrea, who lives in Baltimore, during the conference. Don had also noticed the weight change and I had shared the other vague symptoms with him. He was concerned. I promised to make an appointment with the family doctor as soon as I got back. Overall, I still felt good and had plenty of energy. Also, I had my annual physical examination at the end of October and all of my blood work looked great! I thought my gall bladder may be acting up, but never dreamed it was anything more serious. Besides, I was looking forward to time with Jay and Andrea and to the conference. I love to learn about new updates in medicine at these conferences. When I got back, I made the appointment with the family doctors’ office for the following Monday. And the orders for blood work and an abdominal ultrasound for the next Friday were set in place. That Friday, December 16th, would rock our world. It started with an ultrasound in the morning. The technician was good at showing no alarm, but I could tell that something was wrong as she continued to take multiple pictures and measurements. She then left the room to make sure she had all the pictures she needed with the radiologist. She was gone for a long time. As I lay there looking at the ceiling, I was praying that it was nothing serious, although, by now I was suspecting possible tumors with my pancreas or liver. I have always thought that pancreatic cancer would be the worst cancer to have, as people don’t usually know about it until it has spread. I have known people who didn’t live long after receiving this diagnosis. As I lay there, I remember thinking...this is when most people would have overwhelming anxiety and fear, but I feel peace because I know I am not alone in this, even if it is bad news. I prayed that God would help me to trust him no matter what the results. I thought about the Scripture (in John 6), where Jesus had just taught some hard lessons to understand, and some of those who had been following him turned away. Jesus asked his 12 closest followers, “Are you also going to leave?” Peter answered, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe and we know you are the Holy One of God.” I knew there was nowhere else for me to turn. I was also reminded that over the last year or so, I felt that the Lord was challenging me on the word, “trust”. I had shared this with some others who were going through hard times. Do I trust Him in all things? He has never failed me. He has overwhelmed me with his blessings, grace and love. My faith is strong, but trust is still another level of following and resting in Him. While I was lying there waiting, I told God I would trust Him no matter what happens. He continued to show up as the “day when life changed” continued. I got the call from my PCP just as I was finishing a lunch with Dr. Rollyn Ornstein, Dr. Jodi Brady (my colleagues), and a faculty candidate who was being interviewed that day. Not really being able to comprehend what I just heard on the phone, I shared the report that I had tumors through my pancreas and liver and needed a STAT CT scan and the name of an oncologist as soon as possible. Rollyn immediately started making calls through her contacts to find the right oncologist at Hershey. Jodi offered immediate support and prayer. Even the Dr. being interviewed gave me a hug and showed support. Don and our daughters, Andrea and Kristin, were picking me up in a few minutes to go to the Transiberian Orchestra Concert for the afternoon showing. As I got in the car, I had to share the bad ultrasound report. We decided to go to the concert anyway and wait to hear about the next step. My family is so supportive and also able to lift me up through laughter, which was a great distraction. While taking and making phone calls to get the CT scan set up for that night, we settled into our seats to enjoy the most amazing concert I have ever experienced. I have always loved the power and intensity of their music and their message. They tell God’s message of love and light through the Christmas story in an amazing way. It is hard to explain the experience, but it is likely as close as I can imagine to a glimpse of the lights, stars, fireworks, loud music and amazing talents that I expect to be in heaven. I remember thinking that heaven is going to be an amazing, exciting place as a tiny bit of reality was starting to hit me, but I couldn’t imagine leaving my family and friends because of the loss they would suffer. We left the concert a little early to get over to the hospital. By about 9 pm that night, the findings were confirmed. I had tumors through my pancreas and liver and enlarged lymph nodes around my pancreas consistent with pancreatic malignancy and metastasis to the liver. How could this be? I felt normal!!! Lauren and Dan had been driving for 12 hours that day to come home for Christmas. The news that greeted them that night would also change their world. We were all in disbelief and denial while holding each other and trying to make sense of it all. We are so blessed to have an amazing family. I marvel at the strong faith of my children and my husband. I can’t imagine facing such hard times in life without a strong foundation and faith in Christ. I knew we were heading into a chapter of life that would include difficulties we had never faced before. I also knew there was only One who could give us hope and peace to endure the battles ahead. I prayed that God would use this somehow for His glory and to help others, but the request for the miracle of healing also began.