About four months ago, my life was flipped totally upside down within a very short time. Ordinarily, those that know me best would describe me as a rather private person. However, I wish to share this beginning of a new chapter in my life that I would typically keep largely to myself and those closest to me. As I started writing about my recent life events in a daily journal, I found writing down my reflections a rather cathartic experience. Consequently, I figure this might be a story worth sharing…

On Wednesday, May 11 after completing another enjoyable (yet exhausting) day at school, I stopped at a favorite running trail of mine on my drive home to clear my mind by covering six miles at an easy pace. That evening, I remember having some mild abdominal discomfort, but I played it off as a stomach “bug” that was so widely going around at the time.

As I progressed through my day at school on Thursday, May 12, my mild stomach discomfort gradually worsened. Eventually, my two colleagues asked if I was feeling alright as my energy level had noticeably lessened. By the third or fourth student that told me my eyes looked yellow (one even made mention of my familiarity to The Grinch), I decided to go the bathroom and check my eyes out in the mirror. After seeing my “Grinch-like” eyes for myself, I spent my lunch doing a little research on my symptoms. I decided it could be a liver infection or perhaps gallstones. No matter what it might be, the dreaded “C” word never entered my thoughts.

I decided to take a little time off that afternoon to seek medical attention and hopefully obtain some answers. I fully expected to be told it was an infection, have a prescription called in and then go on my merry way. At the very worst, I thought I might be told my gall bladder might need removed. No such luck.

I still – and probably always will – remember very vividly when the doctor in the emergency room provided the news. After interpreting the results of my CT Scan, he let my brother and I know that I had a mass on the head of my pancreas that was pinching my bile duct closed. The tears welled up in both of our eyes as we knew what that likely meant. Our dad passed away of pancreatic cancer a little over four years ago – and lived just a short time following his diagnosis.

I spent the next week in the hospital. The confirmed diagnosis of pancreatic cancer was arrived at very early during my stay. My days there felt like one procedure after another. By discharge day, I had lost a little over 20 pounds as a result of all the fasting that had to take place due to those near daily procedures. I left the hospital on May 19th being told by the hospital oncologist I was in Stage 4 as the cancer had already spread to my liver and lungs. He added that because I was “young” (I have just turned 54), in good shape (I was a running/fitness “addict”) and with the super heavy regimen of chemotherapy that would be thrown my way – I could expect to live another 12-18 months. Needless to say, that was not the news I wanted to go home with…

Early on after seeing the oncologist that would be overseeing my chemotherapy, she believed there was reason to suspect that the “spots” located on my lungs and liver might not be malignant (due to her previous experience and because I am “young” and was in good shape). Long story short…biopsies were performed and – sure enough – it was confirmed that the cancer was isolated to my pancreas. I had turning into “The Grinch” to thank for catching the cancer early. The location of the tumor had put a stranglehold on my bile duct which led to jaundice. In approximately 80 percent of those afflicted with pancreatic cancer, it is caught too late for surgery to be a possibility – thus leading to a significantly shorter life expectancy. I consider myself very fortunate to be in the 20 percent for which surgery is possible.

Fast forwarding to the present, I am scheduled for surgery at the end of this month. It will be a rather extensive surgery (referred to as the Whipple procedure). However, I am looking forward to it. After a month of respite from getting “zapped” with chemotherapy, I am beginning to feel better/stronger each day. I know I will be ready for the surgery when the day gets here.

It might seem strange to say I’m looking forward to surgery, but I can safely say that just goes along with how much my outlook on life has changed during these past four months. As corny, cheesy or cliché as it might sound, I’m not sure how often I will be guilty of taking my days/my life for granted from this point forward. In many ways, I find myself more at peace and content with my life than before. Colors seem more vibrant, the morning songs of birds are more evident and soothing, hugs are more comforting and appreciated than ever…you get the idea.

I must admit I never really understood the phrase “Live each day as if it’s your last.” As I too often do, I believe I was just overthinking things and/or perhaps taking the saying a bit too literally. Now, I have taken on my own interpretation of the saying. I take it to mean that we should take the time to savor and reflect upon experiences we find particularly moving, to have a deeper appreciation for the “small” things (as they are often the things that matter the most), to laugh and cry often…

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is that we shouldn’t ever waste chances to show/tell those closest to us that we love them.