November is Pancreas Disease Awareness Month. As part of my mission to raise awareness around pancreatic diseases, I’m sharing a story with you over the next few days. It’s a story about a life interrupted by an insidious disease, and the discovery of how deep-seeded is this thing we call “Hope.”
Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away (June 2000), that Cheshire cat grin on my face is because I just spent a week climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak in Africa, rising 19,340 feet.
Yes, I did (she says with just a trace of pride and amazement).
Many of my friends and family assumed I was in the throes of a midlife crisis, since I was 41 at the time, and had never done more than day hikes at 8,000 feet or less. For you mathematicians who are adding up the numbers in your head right now, yes, that makes me 63!
Fast forward several years and I was working as an executive with a national nonprofit organization, putting in 50+ hour weeks and spending many of my days traveling.
Newly remarried, with two grown kids who had flown the nest, I shared our home with my husband, my elderly mom, two ginormous dogs and a 10-year old foster child.
Life was full and satisfying. And rarely dull.
But by November 2005, mysterious intense flares of stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, bloating and bowel problems began plaguing me on a regular basis.
It often reduced me to a woman lying on the floor of a public bathroom for hours at a time because my symptoms were so bad I had no other option. When you’re that sick, dignity and concern about germs are casualties to the cause.
It hurt to eat. A lot.
The pain in the upper right side of my abdomen radiated through to my back like a hot poker, sometimes wrapping around my lower back like a vise tightening to the point I thought I’d surely break in half. It was a deep, boring, gnawing, blow-torch kind of pain.
I’d take a couple of bites of food and be too full to eat any more. I lost 20% of my body weight in three months, and went down four dress sizes in rapid succession. The scale hovered at 100 pounds. At 5’5″, I’m small-boned, but I didn’t look “fashionably” thin. I looked gaunt and hollow. I looked gutted.
It was the beginning of my journey down the rabbit hole.
Read Part 2 here.