Crystal is a Pancreatic Cancer and Duodenal Cancer survivor. Through patient advocacy, Crystal empowers other warriors who may be going through cancer or another chronic illness. Continue reading to find out more about her cancer diagnosis story, and advice she has for others.
How did you uncover your illness?
My symptoms began presenting themselves at least a year prior to me acting on them. Like many other working parents, I focused on work, social events and the health and well-being of my family. I had sudden weight loss, severe abdominal and back pain, vomiting, fainting, excessive exhaustion, a distended stomach and jaundice. With encouragement from my daughter, I finally went to the emergency room where it was discovered that my hemoglobin was a staggering 4.1 - I had lost two thirds of the blood in my body. I had no idea that it was feeding a tumor. Within 36 hours, I was diagnosed with pancreatic and duodenal adenocarcinomas (Pancreatic/Duodenal Cancer)
What has your treatment journey been like?
My treatment journey has been filled with both tumultuous and celebratory moments. I've undergone chemotherapy, radiation, a Whipple surgery, more chemotherapy and currently immunotherapy, indefinitely. I've discovered the enormous strength of my circle of physical and emotional caregivers, the importance of a strong relationship with my oncology team, the empowerment of self-advocacy, and my unwavering faith in God.
Just after surgery, we found that all of the cancer could not be removed. My incredible surgeon recommended immunotherapy however, at the time, there was no FDA approved protocol for pancreatic cancer. I would have to enter into a clinical trial in order to receive it. The trial was a success for me - I'm considered a Complete Response! After more than 2 consecutive years of treatment, my positive results during the trial influenced the FDA to approve immunotherapy for MSI-High patients like myself! Knowing that I played a key role in moving such an enormous mountain has been monumentally empowering. I've learned that my voice and actions, regardless of how minute or resounding, matter.
What guidance can you give to someone going through a similar treatment?
For anyone going through similar treatment, we can do hard things. Surround yourself with positivity - do things that genuinely bring you joy, that includes surrounding yourself with people that bring you joy. Look for other patients that are currently going through similar treatment/diagnosis and connect with those that inspire and encourage you. My dear co-patient and "cancer bestie" often reminds me, when you hear stories of those that have lost their battles, remember, their story is not your story. If you can or feel up to it, record your journey - keep a journal or video diary. I often look back at my journal from some of the more difficult days during treatment and realize just how far I've come. For that, I'm both proud of myself and truly grateful.
What advice can you give to a friend or family member who wants to support a loved one?
To friends and family members wanting to support a loved one battling cancer, simply be you. Everyone has their own love language. Some cook, some do yard work, some make others laugh, some pray, some make crafts, some binge-watch Netflix, some just sit quietly and hold hands. Whatever it is, just be present. No one should fight cancer alone.
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