Beating the Odds: A survivor of pancreatic cancer shares her story

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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) It's one of the scariest cancers because by the time symptoms appear, it is often too late. Jeopardy's Alex Trebek is among more than 56,000 people in the United States who will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 45,000 of them will die.

Source: MGN / More than 56,000 people in the United States who will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 45,000 of them will die.

Two years ago, Mary Haigh wasn't sure she'd be around to watch her grandchildren grow up or celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary. She'd just learned she had pancreatic cancer. "It started with an episode of diarrea and didn't, it seemed to get better and then it would get worse again and get better so I thought it was maybe some medication my doctor had prescribed or something."

Haigh says she was exhausted and when her stools turned gray, she knew right away something was very wrong. Tests confirmed her suspicion it was pancreatic cancer. She thought it was a death sentence. Haigh said, "I went home thinking, I probably have a few months left and we're just going to make the best of it."

But in Haigh's case, the cancer was localized, meaning it hadn't spread. Doctors surgically removed the tumor from her pancreas and she received chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

Dr. Nathan Jones, DO., Radiation Oncologist, Sparrow Herbert Herman Cancer Center said, "I think Mary's story is a great story of hope. She is someone that especially in the early stages, people were having a lot of hard difficult discussions with her. I myself had some hard difficult discussions with her."

Doctors say one of the biggest challenges with pancreatic cancer is its location in the body. Not only that, the cancer itself is aggressive. Dr. Jones said, "The pancreas is hidden, tucked back, in the very back of the upper part of our abdomen, its pretty hidden, and so, when you have a tumor growing there, a lot of times it doesn't cause any symptoms right away. A lot of times, we would have no idea until it gets to the point where now its causing symptoms at which point, sometimes, its kind of too late to be able to treat it curatively."

But Haigh is living proof there is hope. Dr. Jones said, "I think its important to recognize that each, just like each person is different, each of these cancers is different and we don't know necessarily how their outcome is going to be." Haigh said, "They did say it would return some day, but they say it could be a year, it could be 20. So, Nobody knows." Ann Emmerich: "And you're feeling good now?" Mary Haigh: "I'm feeling great."

Haigh is thankful she was able to catch it early and hopes by sharing her story others will do the same.

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