Karen’s Corner: Cancer isn’t fair

  • Fri Jan 17th, 2020 5:00pm
  • Life

Karen’s Corner

By Karen Barkstrom

Cancer sucks.

That pretty much sums it up.

And as much cancer as there is in the world, it never really hit me hard until a couple of months ago.

On Dec. 3 — her 40th birthday — our daughter-in-law, Andrea, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Total shock was my first reaction. That’s not fair, I thought.

Andrea takes better care of herself than anyone else in our family. She and our son Tyler got up before 4 every morning to go to the gym for more than an hour. She ran half-marathons. She doesn’t eat red meat.

But cancer isn’t fair. It doesn’t care, it doesn’t discriminate, it can strike anyone regardless of a person’s lifestyle, status, age, nationality — no one is immune to its invasion.

At first, Mike and I could not even talk about Andrea’s diagnosis without crying, at times uncontrollably. But before too long we were able to share our shock and heartache with friends, co-workers and our church family, and prayers and support came pouring in.

It’s hard being 400 miles away but after visiting Ty and Andrea for a long weekend in mid-December, we realized they have an amazing support group there in Spokane — friends, neighbors, co-workers, soccer and basketball parents, sorority sisters, WSU alumni — people signing up on Meal Train to bring meals, providing transportation for the kids’ many activities, donating to a GoFundMe account, sending words of encouragement and offering prayers. The daughter of one of their neighbors, when told about Andrea’s diagnosis said, “It’s OK mom. Andrea is strong like a dinosaur.” And now friends have had bracelets, T-shirts and sweatshirts made up with purple ribbons (for pancreatic cancer) and the words “Strong like a dinosaur” and “No one fights alone.”

Knowledge is power and with Andrea’s permission I’d like to share part of the Facebook announcement she posted early in December:

What I expected to be a wonderful 40th birthday turned out to be a stressful, medical related week of uncertainty and eventual diagnosis. On my 40th birthday, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer happens when normal cells in the pancreas grow into abnormal cells and grow out of control. The pancreas is located behind the stomach and makes hormones and different enzymes to break down the food that we eat.

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:

1. Pain — pain that can spread from their stomach to around their back, it can come and go and might get worse with eating food.

2. Weight loss — not feeling hungry or eating very little

3. Diarrhea — bowel movements that can look greasy or be difficult to flush down the toilet.

4. Jaundice — yellowing in the skin and white parts of the eyes. This can happen in people with pancreatic cancer because one of the ducts carrying bile from the gallbladder is blocked. If a bile duct gets blocked, it can make your bowel movements look more gray instead of brown.

5. Bloating

6. Fatigue

7. Nausea and vomiting

Please, if you notice something that is different with your body, please let your doctor know. Be persistent and proactive. You know yourself best.

You are amazing, Andrea. We’ve known that since the first time we met you way back when you and Tyler were students at WSU. There is not a doubt in our minds that you are “Strong like a dinosaur” — a T-rex to be exact — in this case a purple dinosaur.

Mike is a Husky fan and therefore loves purple and gold. The rest of us in the family are strong Cougar fans who bleed crimson and gray. The thought of wearing anything purple never entered our minds.

Until now.

We’re all wearing lots of purple in support of Andrea and all those fighting pancreatic cancer.

And you’re invited to join us.

Karen Barkstrom, The Daily World’s editorial assistant, can be reached at 360-537-3925 or kbarkstrom@thedailyworld.com.