In honor of our 10 year anniversary, NPCF reached out to Christina Parrish, an 11 year Pancreatic Cancer survivor and founder of the Purple Iris Foundation, and asked to share her story.
“One day during my workout, I was stretching out on a Pilates ball and I noticed a bump protruding under my left rib cage. I knew something was not right. I had also been very tired, having a hard time eating, extreme back pain under my shoulder blades. I just hurt…all over and felt like I was dying! I also had lost 60 lbs…and was a skeleton!
I went to my primary care doctor and had a CT scan and ultrasound performed. Four days later, the physician assistant told me that I had a mass in my pancreas and lesions on my liver. Holding back tears, I asked if they could take them out. But she said they couldn’t. The physician assistant mentioned that I should see an oncologist, and that was the first indication that she was talking about cancer.
Two weeks later, in June 2008, I was able to see an oncologist near my home outside of Bangor, Maine. In between the two appointments, I did a lot of research on pancreatic cancer. When I got to the oncologist’s office, I was told I had stage IV pancreatic cancer. The doctor recommended a chemotherapy regimen, which I did not believe was appropriate for me, based on my research. I also asked about other treatment options and was told no other options were available. I sought a second opinion from another hospital, but they recommended the same approach.
A few weeks passed by, and I remembered commercials I had seen for Cancer Treatment Centers of America(CTCA). I was determined to find other treatment options that were available to me. I made a phone call I spoke with an Oncology Information Specialist at CTCA®, who provided me with lots of information. CTCA was the kind of place that I was looking for. They took care of the WHOLE person. I chose to fly to CTCA Chicago to learn more.
That August, I flew to Chicago. As soon as my mom and I walked in the front doors, I knew this was the place I needed to be. That day, I met with my nurse navigator, who explained how things would go for my evaluation and consultation. I first met with my intake physician, then I started all the testing—a bone scan, CT scan, and PET/CT scan to confirm the diagnosis and determine whether the cancer had spread anywhere else. Next, I met with all the people who would provide me with supportive care services. Then I met with my medical oncologist, Dr. Levin. We discussed my treatment options. Everything was coming together the way I needed it to. Together, we chose a treatment plan, and I was ready to fight.
My treatment at CTCA
That weekend, my mom and I stayed in town and participated in day trips to local attractions the hospital organized for patients and their families. We went on a boat ride and to the Bristol Renaissance Fair. That was the best thing because it really helped take our minds off what I was about to go through the next week—beginning my pancreatic cancer treatment.
I started a chemotherapy regimen, which included intravenous chemotherapy (FUDR chemotherapy and leucovorin), as well as intra-arterial chemotherapy (cisplatin and mitomycin, and a 3rd that I can never remember the name of) to both my liver and pancreas.
The intra-arterial chemotherapy, in particular, was intense. But it knocked my tumor markers down dramatically. I went through four rounds of intra-arterial treatment. I experienced side effects, fatigue including nausea, low red blood cell and platelet counts, and hair loss. I also needed numerous blood and platelet transfusions. But over the next 6 months after the last one…I started to gain a little bit of strength back
For more than 3 1/2 years, I returned to CTCA every month for five to six days at a time. I received chemotherapy intravenously and took advantage of all the supportive care services CTCA offered.
The naturopathic provider on my care team helped me cope with nausea by suggesting various supplements. Acupuncture also helped with hot flashes and night sweats, and the chiropractor at the hospital realigned my spine, which was out of whack from a sports injury. I also had massages. On the days when I’d have my massage and chiropractic adjustment, I felt so relaxed.
The spiritual support I received at the hospital helped renew my faith. And my mind-body therapist was a godsend to my mother and me. She’s somebody I felt comfortable talking to, and she helped me get through some really difficult times.
The first year of my treatment was really hard. In the second year, I felt as though my body regenerated itself. My energy level was great, for a cancer patient Granted, it took me a couple of days to recoup after I received five days’ worth of chemotherapy. And some months were better than others. But overall, I had pretty normal energy three weeks out of the month.
During the treatment, I did a ton of juicing. That’s how I got a lot of my fruits. I juiced apples, carrots, red grapes, pineapple, strawberries, blueberries, and cantaloupe. It was fabulous! I did it once a day. And when I was at the hospital, the culinary staff prepared my juices for me.
I had my first beer since I was diagnosed on the two-year anniversary of my fight. I couldn’t drink it for a while, and I didn’t want to. But two years is definitely a momentous thing.
Today, I follow a very healthy diet and exercise, because I am borderline diabetic…and my A1C keeps creeping up. In 2012, I stopped taking chemotherapy, and about 6 months after I thought my cancer was back. I was in SEVERE pain! They found that my pancreas had shriveled up. All that could be seen was a bit of the head.
I now take Pancreatic enzymes every time I eat.
I have been returning to CTCA every six months for checkups.
I have found a renewed love for the outdoors! Hiking and camping are where you will find me in the summer. Once in a while, I do pick up the golf clubs. I love flowers too. I don’t get out to do these things much. With awful Pancreatitis over the last 6 months. In which I had a celiac nerve block. Now I am just dealing with digestive problems…but I still try to keep a positive attitude. What else can you do! When you have had 11 BONUS years, instead of the 6 months I was told.
LIFE is GOOD and I AM truly blessed!
I’ve also started an initiative to raise awareness for pancreatic cancer. It began as the Purple Iris Brigade, and it became The Purple Iris Foundation, and an official nonprofit in 2012. We’ve bought thousands of purple irises from the local garden club and planted them throughout the community, in our HOPE gardens, we offer online peer support groups for patient/survivors, caregivers, and Pancreatic cancer Survivor/patients, as well have the Maine Cancer Outdoor Adventures program…for those impacted by cancer,
Light the night for HOPE vigil in November, and The Purple Elf Project…to help families, battling cancer, by giving them Christmas gifts, heating oil, gas cards, grocery cards.
I am going to leave you with this…
I’ve been blessed to make it to the other side of this beast we call Pancreatic cancer! The 2 things that I clung to, as I still do to this day, was faith and hope
HOPE and faith are powerful things….NEVER lose them.”
Christina, we are truly humbled to share your story and we are grateful for the hope, awareness, and support you provide to so many.