Randi Kreiss

Still standing, cancer treatment and all


My husband is the main character in this story. The recipient of abundant blessings from family and friends, he is festooned in good wishes and prayers these days.
This is powerful juju, and he needs it in his fight through cancer.
Since his diagnosis in May, we have been living a different life. Cancer doesn’t happen to just one person; life takes a hard left for everyone in the family, kids and grandkids, too. A good day, a good time, a good year, all become relative.
My husband, Don, always does things in a big way, so he didn’t just get cancer; he got pancreatic cancer, discovered “incidentally” during a routine scan. (He did the scan because of a genetic risk, and I write about this now to remind readers that anyone can test for genetic mutations that might confer a cancer risk. This knowledge has the power to save lives.)
His tiny lesion was discovered very early on a CT scan, confirmed with an MRI and an endoscopic biopsy, and removed in July in a Whipple procedure, a drastic and super-complex operation that removes the tumor and rearranges your innards. In his case, the procedure was done robotically, over seven hours, with two surgeons. The doctors said he would be in the hospital for a week to three weeks since he’s an old dude, and cancer isn’t his only medical challenge.

But being an outlier, Don was doing laps around the nurses’ station after four days, and they sent him home with more drains than a steam room after five days. They told me I could change the drains; it would be easy. Not easy. A visiting nurse saved the day.
The doctors advised that after the Whipple procedure, his eating and digestion might not be normal for months, or possibly ever. “Small portions. Frequent meals. No spice. No roughage,” we were told.
I sat across the table from him at home, expecting some kind of volcanic intestinal eruption, but he just chomped away and digested everything and, in a week or two, started exercising.
In August he began chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Yes, the surgery and chemo seem like killing a mosquito with a cannon, but even a tiny pancreatic cancer is not your ordinary mosquito. Don is doing it all with grace and remarkable good cheer. He says he’s fine, no problems.
One issue is that the steroids they give him with the chemo send him into orbit. He can’t stop moving from room to room or making phone calls or rearranging the silverware in the drawer. For two days, he basically flies low around our house, engines roaring, until, on day three, he comes in for a landing. This time is perfect for cleaning windows.
This week, new scans revealed that everything under the hood looks good. No obvious cancer. An excellent finding. “We’re lucky so far,” the doctor says, luck also being relative. It has taken us many months to accept the uncertainty of this life we are living. We can plan, but not too far ahead. We can get out, but we must dodge sneezing people and other germy situations.
My husband is the warrior, and I am the worrier. I handle the appointments and records and results and communications with all the medical people who are keeping Donnie up and running. This job does not align with my skill set. Toxic stress is baked into the health care system these days; I feel incompetent juggling patient portals, faxed reports and MRI discs.
But it also seems like really, really bad form to complain. He’s doing the hard work.
You may be wondering, and I don’t mind sharing, that despite the robust treatment and particular nastiness of this cancer, we don’t talk about it much anymore. We do a pretty good job of doing the day-to-day thing.
We go out occasionally, but mostly I cook, and we see some friends, and we talk about the news, which often makes us feel lucky indeed.
Don keeps the faith with a group of dear friends who are also going through difficult cancer regimens. Perhaps you or someone you love is undergoing treatment. All the stories speak to an abiding resilience in the human spirit.
Each morning, we plan the day. And honestly, we look forward to it, because it’s the only day we can count on. In truth, it’s the only day anyone can count on.
We don’t overtalk this new chapter in our story. But occasionally, in the middle of the night, as if by some silent agreement, we hold hands.

Copyright 2023 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.