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Susan Carr: Blessings in the darkness

Globe and Mail Update

This picture was taken in August 2006, following the end of my chemotherapy treatments. I'm celebrating my 64th birthday.

When I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December, 2005, I didn't know if I would live to see that day.

After almost two years of pain, including eight months of excrutiating pain, I was diagnosed at age 63 with pancreatic cancer.

Four weeks later, on Jan. 17, 2006, my surgeon removed a 6-cm. adenocarcinoma along with the tail of my pancreas. Remarkably, there was no evidence that the cancer had spread.

However, because pancreatic cancer has a nasty habit of recurring, I underwent chemotherapy for a six-month period. (I agreed to participate in a clinical trial for the drug Gemcitabine.) I tolerated the treatments well and am now feeling well.

A diagnosis of cancer changes one's life in an instant.

Fortunately, blessings accompany the darkness.

I quickly developed an acute awareness of what matters. Instead of my job dominating my life, I'm now walking daily in the river valley with my new puppy, training to be a volunteer court support worker with the John Howard Society, trying out Tai Chi, returning to my love of sewing, and — best of all — enjoying time with my grandchildren. And I plan to walk the Camino de Santiago in either the spring or fall to celebrate my 65th birthday.

My experience has been that cancer brings out the best in us. I've been the recipient of wonderful gifts of loving care and support from family and friends that otherwise might not have surfaced. And my relationships with my daughters have deepened. Last Christmas, following my diagnosis, we had our best Christmas ever.

Pancreatic cancer is both rare and deadly. It represents just 2-3 per cent of all cancers, and overall only 6 per cent survive five years (Canadian Cancer Society statistic).

It's a difficult cancer to diagnose. And by the time it's detected, it's usually too late for treatment.

However, for people like me whose tumour was resectable, the five-year survival rate is 10-20 per cent depending on the pathology.

In spite of the grim statistics, I feel calm, peaceful, and positive. I plan on being one of the lucky ones.

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