Last Thursday night, after two days of bad news appointments, Alan and I sat outside of MD Anderson waiting for the shuttle to pick us up and take us to the airport. It was supposed to pick us up at 5:53 p.m., but it was stuck in traffic and running late.
There were probably 50-plus people coming and going on hotel shuttles, cabs, etc., as we sat there, but one woman stuck out. She was pacing back and forth in front of us, clearly looking for someone/something. A cab pulled in, and she asked if SuperShuttle sent them. It hadn’t, but the question perked my ears because we were waiting for SuperShuttle too.
She turned toward me and said that SuperShuttle told her they were sending a cab for her, but she didn’t know how to tell which cab would be hers. There were cabs everywhere. I told her that we, too, were waiting for SuperShuttle, but they hadn’t told us they were sending a cab.
She continued chatting about how she usually flies out earlier in the day because after 6 p.m., there aren’t many flights going from Seattle to Alaska.
As it turns out, she is from Anchorage, Alaska, and she flies in for treatment at MD Anderson every 19 days. She’s in a clinical trial now. And she’s been coming to MD Anderson since 2008. It is one of two hospitals in the country that was able to perform the surgery she needed after she was diagnosed. She certainly isn’t able to get any specialized treatment in Anchorage, she said.
Perspective 1: While it is hard to travel for treatment for several reasons (work, kids, expense, etc.), at least ours is a quick flight or a 7-8 hour drive. I can’t imagine flying from Alaska.
While we talked more, she shared that she has pancreatic cancer — the rare form that Steve Jobs actually had. Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer is never a good prognosis, she says.
When she was first diagnosed, they tried the chemo they usually use for other cancers.
“It didn’t do anything but make me sick.”
No progress. This year, she started participating in a clinical trial for a new medication that slows down the growth of the cancer which, she says, is all you can really do with her cancer. It is a death sentence.
“It’s going to kill me eventually.”
There isn’t much research and funding behind pancreatic cancer. By the time symptoms are present and you are diagnosed, you generally have a very short time left. There isn’t enough time for doctors to try different things. She caught hers by accident after getting an X-ray for an unrelated reason. At the time she was diagnosed, it had only spread to her liver. I’m guessing that is why she has had a longer fight than some.
Perspective 2: How lucky am I to have a type of cancer that has so much research and funding behind it?
Perspective 3: How lucky am I that, even though I have cancer that tends to be harder to catch with imaging because it doesn’t create large masses, mine created a gigantic mass, and I accidentally caught it?
While we chatted and waited, a cab pulled up. The driver hopped out and called our name. SuperShuttle was clearly having some communication problems. Since we were both going to the same airport, we told her to hop in instead of waiting for a cab that might not ever arrive.
In the cab, we talked more about her life. She started taking the clinical trial drug in February, and her doctor told her she had six months to live. The drug seems to be doing a good job slowing the cancer though — she has obviously beat the doctor’s prediction. But at this point, the cancer has spread to her spine and her lymph system.
Her goal is to make it to her daughter’s high school graduation in May.
Perspective 4: A year and a half of this crap is nothing compared to what she is going through.
I was really glad it was dark out and that Alan was sitting between us, because I was fighting back tears the entire time I talked to her. I cannot IMAGINE what she is going through.
I told her that she seemed to be handling it all pretty well.
“I have my moments.”
Like when she watches “Say Yes to the Dress” on TLC … she gets upset because she knows she won’t be at her daughter’s wedding. That’s when she talked about how hard it’s all been on her teenage daughter.
It truly broke my heart to listen to her story. We wished her the best as we got out of the cab. I couldn’t get out of the cab fast enough because I was seconds away from breaking down in tears.
I really believe that God puts people in our lives for reasons. I think our SuperShuttle buddy, Laura, was put in our lives to give me some perspective on my circumstances. When you think you have it bad, there is always someone out there who has it worse. I definitely know that there are people worse off than I am, but I was pretty down about my situation that day. I needed that reality check.
Even if I get bad news back on my upcoming scans, I will still probably have a better prognosis than she does. While I fret about things like nausea, losing my hair and how radiation will make everything more complicated, she is accepting the fact that she will leave her daughter without a mother.
So, even though she doesn’t even know it, she has heavily impacted my view on my situation. And, even though she doesn’t even know it, I will pray every day that she will make it next to May.
This cancer crap is so unfair, and she deserves at least that.