Months have passed and Brian is still a survivor of pancreatic cancer, one day at a time

Months have passed and Brian is still a survivor of pancreatic cancer, one day at a time

November is Pancreatic Awareness Month. A friend and reader, Jennifer Bannan, told me about her husband’s experience with pancreatic cancer when I was doing some research. She is such a lovely writer, that I asked her to write a guest blog post. Please “like” her piece and share it. We’ve made woefully little improvement with pancreatic cancer. You can donate here.

by Jennifer Bannan

The day was brilliant – dry, blazing, the occasional cloud our only hope for some relief from the sun. There were 50 or so tented booths in a circle on the grass – a bouncy house and craft table for kids, various team tables for the fundraisers, the registration booth where I picked up my t-shirt and signed in my friend Mary Beth and her little boy Braden, who were caught in traffic, over the yellow bridge inside the downtown area, caused (we now knew, too late) by several other races that day, in Pittsburgh. The traffic was just a reminder that there are so many causes, so much suffering to relieve, so much work to be done.


Brian and Cypress

Brian was worried he hadn’t used enough sunscreen. He stopped at the “survivors” booth and asked for a hat. Getting the once-over of his youthful, fit form, muscles, firm skin, good posture all saying he could have been a marathoner, he was told, “They’re only for survivors, sir.”

“So far so good,” he replied. And, with a jump, they handed it over.

Which got us thinking about what it means to be a survivor. You’re a survivor, really, as of Day One, the first day you know you have cancer and you’re still alive. Every day a god, as the author Annie Dillard has written. Every day your gift: your god from God.

And so, Marybeth and Braden arrived. Kitty (who has a close friend with cancer) and Kelli (who has beat breast cancer and is in her own so-far-so-good mode) caught up with us. We shared updates of our lives, tried to decide how to wear our Wage Hope banners – like Miss America or Axl Rose, or some other way? The 5K began, we fell into it.


Baby Honoré with a sign for Brian.

Right away the kids were whining – they’re only five. It was so hot, they cried. Where was the water table? How much longer? And you couldn’t blame them, not in this heat, but you could remind them to look at the city springing up around us, direct their eyes away from the hot deserts of parking lots up to the massive stadiums, remind them, as you ran the boxy buildings that meted out toward the Warhol museum, that we would soon dip toward the river. The shade that the rail-trail path finally provided us was nice, but we could tell the kids felt duped. A little shade, so what, why were we doing this again?

Brian broke off with Cypress, running ahead a bit, to help pace him, to stop the boys from feeding into each other like quarters into complaint machines.

“He looks so good,” my girlfriends said to me, as Brian’s white Survivor baseball cap bobbed ahead of us. How can he really be so sick, the mind can’t help wonder, how can there only be months like they say, a year if we’re lucky? He jogged along with his easy stride, he looked down at his child beside him, provided some words of encouragement, some pointers on technique.

I remembered my favorite dream about him, one we’ve laughed about. We hadn’t been dating that long, but I was so impressed with his sportiness, his ability to get out in any weather, worried that I might not be able to keep up. I dreamed that we were out for a run, and he turned and ran backward, watching me, maybe surveying my ability to take his tips. “Excellent form,” he’d said, “excellent form.” A whole dream about my pleasure in running to his liking – how it reflects his penchant for proclamations, and my terror and love of being judged – how we’ve laughed about that dream.

Recently Cypress asked him about his own father. Brian lost his dad when he was 10 months old and he told Cypress, described the utter lack – no memory of Dad, just a couple of pictures and stories – saw the reflection of such loss in those big brown eyes under those pointy eyebrows just like Brian’s. Cypress understood, Brian decided after their talk, that already he had had some luck, even if his father would die too young. Already he had more dad than some boys do.


Jen at the Finish line.

It’s too much for any of us to digest, watching this healthy man and his boy, looking so good, running along in this hot sun, while something eats away from within.

And so we put one foot in front of the other. We survive another step forward.

The sidelines were mostly free of bystanders in this heat, but I was pleased to see the smattering of them here and there along the shaded path. One group had made signage, I noticed, and they were particularly loud, shaking their signs and bellowing – it took me a few more strides to realize they were loud because they cheered for us. It was my son Desi, his dad Rich (my ex) and step-mom Sarah, her daughter Abby, our friends Art and Julie and their little baby Honoré in her stroller. The six days of fundraising and excitement leading up to this day – all the people who had shown their support – were captured by that little posse for me.

I hugged them all, weeping, grabbing Desi’s head and kissing him too hard (he’s getting used to it) and carried on my way.

We made it – all of us. Brian and Cypress first, then I, then Marybeth and Kelli and Kitty with Marybeth’s Braden riding piggyback. We raised thousands of dollars, maybe toward a few more months (or years!) for Brian (or someone else). Maybe toward a miracle.

I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to thank you all. But this November is Pancreatic Awareness Month, so I thought it was a decent time to finally be late to the game. Anyway I love it when months have passed (in this case two and a half months) and we can say Brian is still a survivor. We’re still trying to figure out how to wear our banners, how to achieve excellent form, how to reconcile what shouldn’t-be with what is, how to survive one more gift, one more day.

This year 53,000 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Between 2006 and 2012  7.7% of those diagnosed survived five years. These are dismal statistics, shaped primarily by the fact that pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed at a late stage because it goes undetected. Click here for a link to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s clinical guidelines for treatment of pancreatic cancer. You will have to sign in, but the document is free.  As with all cancers, your best bet is to be treated by an NCI-designated cancer treatment center. You can find a list of these facilities and the one closest to you, here.

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