DIAGNOSIS: Pancreatic Cancer

DIAGNOSIS: Pancreatic Cancer Marian Stockwell

The Days Before, The Day Of, & The Days After

by Marian Stockwell

The day before, we are living our lives unaware of the chaos the next day will bring.

In the weeks before my diagnosis, I was enjoying my summer – working in the garden, swimming, boating, hanging out with family and friends, a typical summer. Then came the weekend of the family reunion. It was during that last weekend in July when I started to feel not quite “normal.” It must be the flu, I thought.

A week or so later, I still felt unwell. Maybe it’s gallstones, I decided. I had looked up my symptoms online, and that seemed to fit. I couldn’t imagine what else it might be. Besides, whatever it was, I just knew I had to get it taken care of. It was getting worse. So, I made an appointment with my primary care doctor for August 15, 2017. Next came a blood test, a CT scan, and another scan, with contrast, that I ended up having to pay for out of pocket.

Two mornings later, I got a phone call. These were my doctor’s words: “You have pancreatic cancer, and you need to get to the hospital as soon as possible. They will be calling you today to set up everything.” Right to the point.

Instead of falling apart (that would happen later), I was ready to tackle this thing called pancreatic cancer. Just tell me what I need to do, I thought, and let’s get doing it.

“What did I do the first few days after being diagnosed?” you ask.

I remember it well. My foster daughter had won free tickets to see comedians Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy at DTE Energy Music Theatre in Clarkston. She called and asked me if I wanted to go with her. I could’ve told her about my diagnosis, but I chose not to. Instead, I just said yes.

Instead of falling apart (that would happen later), I was ready to tackle this thing called pancreatic cancer.

We went to that show and laughed our heads off. It was the best decision I could have made. I won’t lie and say that the big C never entered my mind that night. Because it did. But it did not have control over our girls’ night out. I wasn’t going to let cancer spoil this rare time we had together.

“What do you do when you are waiting for tests, results, and treatment?” you ask.

You go online and research. I’m not so sure if that was the best idea, but it’s what I did. Many people advise against that. And I soon found out why. The statistics didn’t look good. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death, and only nine percent of those diagnosed will make it to year five. Yikes!

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Since I wasn’t sleeping well during those days between my diagnosis and treatment, I decided I might as well do something. So, I wrote “The Letters” to my family – the kind that soldiers are encouraged to write their loved ones before going off to war. The ones that start out, “If you are reading this, it probably means that I …” Some of them are open-ended; I may still add to them.

Everything happened fast. Within days, I was headed down to see the surgeon and giving blood samples, undergoing tests, and filling out paperwork, lots of paperwork. Surgery – the Whipple – was scheduled for the day after Labor Day.

“What have I been doing after treatment?” you ask.

My son came to visit a few days after I returned home from the hospital. We chatted as we walked down my LONG drive. I didn’t feel much pain because I was with my son. It was so good to see him. His girlfriend at the time, an ICU nurse, couldn’t believe I was already out walking.

After recovering from surgery, I underwent chemo. Next came radiation. I did it all in the hopes of living a longer life to spend with my husband, my family, and friends. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing, living each day to the fullest. God has truly blessed me these last few years. I’ve enjoyed some of the best days of my life.

I also discovered that forced retirement isn’t so bad after all, once I got past the initial disappointment. I realized the reason I enjoyed working was because I like people. Well, I still have lots of people in my life, and plenty of time to enjoy them.


Marian Stockwell is a pancreatic cancer survivor. She and her husband are snowbirds who divide their time between Michigan and Florida. In Michigan, she loves gardening, riding mopeds, and having her grandchildren come visit. In Florida, she enjoys kayaking, biking, swimming, and playing pickleball, well, at least trying to.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2020.

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