Crystal Morgan is a mother, sister, daughter, friend, and cancer "thriver". In June 2016, at 46 years old, after months of abdominal pain, weakness and nausea, Crystal took herself to the emergency room. Following several tests, a 6cm mass was detected in her pancreas. Assuming it was a cyst, an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) determined it was not. Crystal was diagnosed with Stage 2B pancreatic and duodenal cancer, a rare and fast-spreading cancer in the small intestine.
Continue reading to learn more about Crystal's cancer diagnosis journey.
Can you take us back to the moment when you first heard the words "you have cancer"? How did it feel, and how did you cope with the initial shock?
I was wheeled out of the surgical room, numb and speechless. My 21 year old daughter was waiting. She smiled brightly at me, anticipating good news. I stared blankly at her and uttered the words “mommy has cancer”. Our lives as we knew them were instantly changed. I immediately found solace and strength leaning on my faith. My family, friends and church became my support system. Armed with conviction, love and my oncology team, I was prepared to fight for my life.
Can you share a specific moment during your cancer journey that had a profound impact on you and taught you a valuable life lesson?
There have been several moments during my cancer journey that have had profound impacts on my life and taught me valuable life lessons. One that stands out is my participation in a clinical trial. After chemotherapy, radiation and Whipple surgery, I still had cancer. At the time, Immunotherapy was not an FDA-approved treatment option for MSI-High pancreatic cancer patients like myself.
My incredible surgeon suggested a clinical trial. His mother had just had success with the treatment for melanoma and he was confident that it would be a viable option for me as well. This was an opportunity to help, not only myself, but others with no other treatment options.
Within the first few infusions, my body seemed to turn a proverbial corner. Several months later, I was considered a complete success! The results of the trial I participated in were accepted and approved by the FDA as of earlier this year. Immunotherapy is now available as a treatment option for MSI-High pancreatic cancer patients! Participating in this successful trial has been empowering. It has given me a voice, providing hope for other pancreatic cancer patients.
How did your cancer diagnosis impact your mental and emotional well-being, and what strategies did you use to stay positive and hopeful throughout your journey?
Cancer can take a toll on one’s mental and emotional well-being. Facing one’s mortality can be both frightening and sobering. Attending to my mental health and emotional well-being has been an integral part of my journey and treatment.
Early in my diagnosis, I chose to share my journey via social media. I searched for information and inspiration, despite the staggering statistics regarding pancreatic cancer. Sharing my journey has been both therapeutic and empowering. It has given me a voice during a time when I needed to exert control over my life.
Continuous and devout prayer have been essential in keeping me positive and hopeful throughout my journey. Having a genuine relationship with my medical team has been crucial. Every decision regarding my treatment is made informatively and with precision. My oncology team encourages self-advocacy, listening to and acting on any concerns I might have.
Taking advantage of oncology support programs offered by my hospital as well as group and individual therapy provides me with tools to manage anxiety and feelings of isolation.
A dear friend and co-patient often reminds me that “their story is not my story”. I pray that my story can encourage and inspire those seeking it, exactly when they need it.
As a cancer survivor, what are some words of encouragement or advice you would like to offer to others currently facing a similar battle?
Surround yourself with people you love and things that make your soul smile. My journey is not mine alone. My daughter, my only child, has become my confidant, caregiver and source of inspiration. I am beyond grateful for the love, support and encouragement she imparts.
Celebrate every victory, no matter how great or how small. Pray, meditate, change your environment, go for a walk, eat your favorite meal or play with a puppy. Do something that brings you joy. And remember, their story is not your story.
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- Madalyn's Chondroblastic Oateosarcoma Diagnosis Journey