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I’ve always liked Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I have viewed the traveler in this poem as having the choice of which road he picked, but as we are at a crossroads that leaves us very little choice I wonder if the traveler chose the road less traveled by or if that choice was made for him and he just went with it.  Not much of my life has been text book anything, and most days I’m okay with my road.  I am very grateful that pancreatic cancer is something that not everyone gets to experience up close and personal, from the initial breath stealing fear to people wondering why they weren’t told sooner when we waited to tell until our minds were wrapped around what was going on and we could breath to seeing the look of pity and fear on people’s face when they ask “Oh what kind of cancer?” and the only thing that comes out of their mouth is “oh, that’s a bad one”

I never chose this road less traveled by.

I don’t know how it will make all the difference, but I have the faith that it will.  There are lessons to be learned somewhere along this journey of mine and I believe I will come out on the other side a better version of me.  It’s just a bit rocky and hard to travel on this road less traveled by.

As far as an update, Neil is done with his first cycle of folfirinox and has had repeat MRI, CT and PET scans.  He has had an amazing response to the chemo and his tumor has shrunk away from the vessels that were so problematic and had him not being a good surgical candidate.  We’ve talked to two oncology surgeons who both do lots of pancreatic surgeries.  We initially thought he’d be looking at a whipple surgery but more good news is he needs a distal pancreatectomy and splenectomy so less rerouting of his guts.  He will lose about 80% of his pancreas (neck, body, and tail will all be gone) and his spleen.  He received a bunch of immunizations today in preparation for not having a spleen (he will be more susceptible to infections for the rest of his life).  His surgeon mentioned that his PET scan looks so good that he only pulls out dead tumor when he gets in there because of his great response to  his chemo regimen.

A picture is worth a thousand words (I struggled getting them rotated, so tip your head to the left), the first image is Neil’s CT from April.  The tumor is circled in blue pen marked with a T.  There is a small portion of the atrophying tail of the pancreas showing as well.

Neil’s CT from April

 This second picture shows his pancreas and the tumor as it is now (again, circled in hard to see pen)  This area didn’t “light up” on his PET scan which is good, possibility that the tumor is completely dead.  When a PET scan shows a malignancy it “lights up” like googled image.

Neil’s current CT

 Neil also had an old CT from 2009 showing a healthy pancreas.  Comparing the healthy pancreas to now it’s easy to see how atrophied it has become.  All of that useless pancreas and his spleen will soon be gone with hopes that the head of his pancreas is able to make enough insulin and digestive enzymes.  Insulin and Creon isn’t fun, but is very doable if we can rid of the tumor.

An old CT of Neil’s from 2009 with a healthy pancreas

We are on an upswing right now, feeling good about the way things are going but I know this is a rocky path not a lazy stroll down a dirt path lined with wildflowers and things will get harder again.  For now I’m enjoying Neil not hurting and not being sick from chemo.  We took an extra day out of town to have some much needed downtime and reconnect.

Heather and Neil at the aquarium

I do want to thank all of our family, friends, work families, neighbors who have been praying for Neil and cheering him on.  Prayers, cookies, messages of hope, coloring books and so much more have all been appreciated and they really have made a difference to us.

~Heather

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