A year ago this last, February, on a break from emceeing Less Cancer’s National Cancer Prevention Workshop, I found myself attentively listening in on a presentation about pancreatic cysts by Kathleen Haden, MSN, RN, ANP from the University of Virginia. At the time, I was curious about my situation because pancreatic cancer is prevalent in my family, with that and with recent weight gain at the time — specifically due to obesity and diabetes — put me at an increased risk for pancreatic cancer. I wanted, and needed, to know more.
Because of Ms. Haden’s convincing and informative presentation, I went in for a screening a few weeks later. No one was more surprised than I was to learn that I now would be checking the boxes for diabetes and pancreatic cysts. Yep, it happened to me.
Diabetes now in the review mirror due to weight loss but the Pancreatic Cysts we will be following.
I never thought that I would have diabetes or a pancreatic cyst, I was simply following my nose and thought there was an opportunity for me to learn more about pancreatic cysts and screening and hopefully to raise awareness about the issues by sharing about them on my blog.
Fast forward 15 months:
Last week I visited Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City where, along with the University of Virginia, they continue to monitor me for pancreatic cysts. The cysts are neoplasms, which are tumors, but they are referred to as cysts. The good news is that they are not cancer; the worry is that they are a pre-cancerous risk. It was my second visit, and prior to that, I had had an endoscopic procedure by Dr. Vanessa Shami at the University of Virginia.
Specifically, I have what is called Side Branch Intraductal Papillary Mucinous Neoplasm.
So, what the heck does that mean?
There are two kinds of these tumors: a main duct and a branch duct, or intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasm.
The experts at Johns Hopkins tell us:
“Intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms… form in the main pancreatic duct or in one of the branches off of the main pancreatic duct. Intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms that arise in the main pancreatic duct are called, as one might expect, “main duct type” IPMNs. Intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms that arise in one of the branches of the main duct are called “branch duct type” IPMNs. The distinction between main duct type and branch duct type IPMNs is important because several studies have shown that, for each given size, branch duct IPMNs are less aggressive (less likely to have an invasive cancer).”
So, more optimistic news for me.
However, in my journey of arriving in New York alone, checking into my hotel, and feeling the isolation of this journey, the apprehension and fear of getting this checked out was becoming more of a reality. And truth be told I was a bit more concerned than previous visits to either University of Virginia or Memorial Sloan Kettering.
The next day I took a prescription, as I typically do previous to MRIs to chill a bit to address my claustrophobia and was planning to take an Uber ride to the MRI. But my pre-arranged Uber ride canceled on me so I watched as they drove right on by, leaving me no choice but to hoof it in the rain to make it to my appointment on time. Getting dumped by Uber on that day, of all days, felt like some cruel cosmic joke. What had I done to deserve this? As I trudged through the wet streets of Manhattan, I felt my anger shift to sadness.
Inside the MRI facility, my anxiety started to escalate. At 6’ 6 ½” I’m not exactly compact, and in my experience with MRIs, even the extra-large unit appears to be more of a sweater vest on me than anything else.
As the sedation kicked in, it numbed the fears, the anger, and the sadness, and I was grateful to have a technician in there to hold my hand.
By the time I was done and dressed they had called a car to take me to Memorial Sloan Kettering, and when I finally got comfortable and caught my breath in the back seat, I noticed the driver’s name on the dashboard was Karma.
I did a double-take and then asked the driver if, in fact, that was his real name.
“Yes,” he said, reassuringly.
Still, in a bit of a haze from the sedation, I did not really get it. And I just could not get it in my head that Karma was driving me to Memorial Sloan Kettering.
“What does it mean when Karma drives you to the cancer hospital?” I asked the driver, but I was also asking whatever else might have been listening in that day. I was asking the universe.
Was I on a journey towards a death sentence, a ticking clock, or was this a journey towards a reprieve? In the course of that car ride, as my results were being determined, I ran through every possible scenario.
By the time I had reached Memorial Sloan Kettering they zoomed me through, each person so kind and thoughtful, sympathetic to so many anxious patients arriving on pins and needles.
In my slight haze, I thought to myself was that it?
As I sat there alone, digesting what the doctor had said, my thoughts jumped around. I suddenly had my driver on my mind, was this, in fact, Karma too?
I guess God, the Universe, and Karma all want me working a little harder and longer.
I hesitate to share these personal thoughts, because I know, first hand that there are no favors when it comes to cancer.
I have hugged too many weeping parents who have lost their babies to cancer and too many children that have lost their parents.
Cancer is not about Karma or luck — -it’s undeserved and it’s scary.
While following these neoplasms will not prevent cancer, we know there are benefits to keeping an eye on them. I am grateful these are not a problem for me today, and I am more mindful than ever of those who experience different outcomes.
Being a patient is not easy, but what I understand now more than ever before is the isolation and loneliness of the scanning and diagnosis process. And while I don’t wish ill will on anyone, not even an Uber driver who stood me up on a rainy day, I can’t help but believe that Karma will someday grace that aide who held my hand during the MRI, the person responsible for arranging my post-MRI ride, and those kind folks at both University of Virginia and Memorial Sloan Kettering — from the front desk workers to the nurses to the physicians and everyone in between. I can’t help but believe that Karma takes care of those who take care of us.