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What I’ve learned watching my husband fight pancreatic cancer

Our cancer story is like millions of others. We certainly aren’t special. But we certainly are scared, broken, traumatized, frustrated, angry and sad. We are also hopeful, grateful, strong, supported and full of life.

My husband, Thomas, was diagnosed with stage IVB pancreatic cancer in June 2018. He was 56 years old. There is no cure and life expectancy isn’t all that great. Treatment side effects are really rough. But we believe in the fight.

As the partner of someone with cancer, I’ve learned many lessons along the way. Here are just a few…

Lesson #1: Life goes on. Living as full a life as possible is the only option for us.

Other than the “cancer thing,” Tom is the strongest, healthiest and most capable person I know. Right up until he was diagnosed, he was sailing offshore, swimming three times a week, running a business and commuting to see me in Dallas, Texas. Although our days look a bit different now, we’re determined to keep living life to the fullest.

Lesson #2: Never underestimate, nor fail to use, every connection and resource you have.

Our home is actually Wilmington, North Carolina — I had been living here in Dallas for work since May 2017. When Tom’s vague symptoms were eventually diagnosed back in North Carolina, I wanted him to be here in Dallas to get care, at least initially. He agreed. Fortunately for us, I worked for and with physicians who had connections across Dallas — and Tom was able to be seen by a physician within one day. He started chemo a week later at Baylor and just paused after 13 months.

The great thing is, Tom still has options, most significantly the hope of clinical trials.

The great thing is, Tom still has options, most significantly the hope of clinical trials. He has been screened for five different trials, so far with four resulting in no match-up. But he is currently waiting on yet another promising trial. His physician, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN), family, “cancer-friends,” and clinician-friends have all helped tremendously.

Related: Are you at risk for pancreatic cancer?

Lesson #3: As rough as it is to be a patient, it’s pretty tough being a cancer clinician too.

Throughout his journey we have obviously been supported by friends and family, but also his cancer community. His physicians, Drs. Scott Celinski, Roberto Rodriguez-Rusega, and especially Carlos Becerra, have instilled confidence and compassion. The staff members at Baylor University Medical Center, Texas Oncology and Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center have cared for Tom when we have been calm, and when we have been not-so-calm.

Related: Pancreatic cancer survivor thankful for clinical trial that saved his life

Lesson #4: DOGS are greatness, especially when you’re down. Balance the crummy with awesomeness.

The past 15 months have been riddled with ups and downs. The “downs” have included one surgery, a med-port placement, two ED visits and one hospital stay… and not to forget two chemo courses (no fun).

However, the “ups” have included taking even better care of himself (diet, exercise, vitamins/supplements, high-PH water), finding time to travel and sail (South Africa, Grenada, Monaco), visiting family and friends across the country and becoming freakishly attached to his new best friend, Henry Hamilton — our amazing “superdog.”

Lesson #5: Do something to fight your disease.

When we heard about Swim Across America, a fundraising event that unites the swimming community for cancer research, it made so much sense for us. Tom is a beautiful swimmer, he has cancer and he believes in research and clinical trials!

I am decent at fundraising, pretty handy with a kayak and also believe in science and research. So, swimming and volunteering for this amazing cause is the easiest thing we could do. And it allows us to do something.

Cancer has taught us to surround yourself with LOVE, if you don’t have one get a DOG, seek STRENGTH in yourself and those around you, take ACTION and do something, live live live LIFE, and never ever lose HOPE.

While we can’t claim we are from Dallas, it is definitely our home now. We are grateful to be here during this particular journey — one that will not define our lives.

Cancer has taught us to surround yourself with LOVE, if you don’t have one get a DOG, seek STRENGTH in yourself and those around you, take ACTION and do something, live live live LIFE, and never ever lose HOPE.

Be part of the action and join us as we participate in Swim Across America, or learn more about ongoing research efforts.

This blog post was written by Mary Piepenbrink, partner in life and wife of Thomas Hissam, cancer battler and “extraordinary human.”

2 thoughts on “What I’ve learned watching my husband fight pancreatic cancer”

  1. Pingback: Swimming through the tidal wave of cancer | Scrubbing In

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What I’ve learned watching my husband fight pancreatic cancer