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There is no test to detect pancreatic cancer early. It’s the most lethal cancer there is. Luckily for me, it was found by chance, so I am here today as a pancreatic cancer survivor.
In 2011, I was a busy, 18-year-old college freshman suffering from back pain that was so intense I couldn’t even sleep. Despite multiple doctor visits, no one could identify what was wrong. They thought it was kidney stones, or stress, or I needed a massage. This was so frustrating, as I now know that back pain is one of pancreatic cancer’s silent symptoms.
During this time I had some routine dental surgery, but my recovery went terribly wrong. I went into septic shock. That’s when an emergency CT scan revealed I had pancreatic cancer. I was terrified. A friend’s father and my uncle had passed away from pancreatic cancer, so I knew how quickly this disease could progress. Here I was at 18 having to face the same thing, thinking, am I next? It is extremely rare for someone my age to get pancreatic cancer, but it can happen. This disease can strike anyone at anytime.
Since then, I feel as though pancreatic cancer has completely changed me physically, mentally and emotionally. I have undergone an operation called the Whipple, a complicated procedure involving the pancreas and surrounding organs, and one of the few treatment options available to patients if the disease is caught in its earliest stages. The result means that unlike other people my age, I have to think twice about where I go, what I eat or drink, how late I stay out or how often, because I can become really ill.
I also find it harder to relate to my peers when they worry about typical stuff like dating. Things like this are not a big deal to me. I am a much stronger person, having gone through this trauma at such a young age. I also remove anyone or anything that is negative from my life much more quickly than I would have if I hadn’t had this experience.
However, one of the things that has remained the same is my desire to make a difference. That’s why I joined with The Lustgarten Foundation, the largest nonprofit funder of pancreatic cancer research in the U.S. I first got involved with their Pancreatic Cancer Research Walks, especially since every single dollar raised or donated to the Foundation goes right to research (find more information at www.curePC.org). So I signed up my friends and family to walk at Jones Beach on Long Island and in New York City where I was first invited to share my experience in front of thousands of people. And I have been sharing my story ever since.
It is really inspiring to see the positive reaction to my involvement. This drives me to not let the ups and downs of this disease get in the way of what I, like any normal 21-year-old, want: to travel, graduate college, move out of my parents’ home, buy my first car, and do something meaningful with my career. I’m a nursing major and dream of becoming like one of the great nurses who took care of me. I want to reach people in ways that they’ll never forget.
No matter what I do, beating this disease and helping others by raising awareness about pancreatic cancer will be a part of it. Anyone can get pancreatic cancer, that’s why we need everyone to join us in this fight for a cure.
Check out the curePC Courage Project, an online video series from The Lustgarten Foundation and Cablevision Systems Corporation’s curePC campaign, featuring stories from Alicia and others who also have been impacted by pancreatic cancer ”. And consider making a donation here – every dollar goes straight to research.