Boston Athletic Association 5K 2019
By: Lillian Johnasen, Survivor
I was diagnosed March, 2017 with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. My son’s perseverance and insistence is why I am here today. I am also alive to say to others, never, never ignore your symptoms, press the doctors for tests and exams, have your tumor biopsied so they know what kind of cancer you have, as not every PC is the same and the treatments are different.
I was very active, athletic even, before my cancer. Never had any illnesses to speak of. Worked as LPN with late onset brain injury patients and had moved back to my home country Denmark in 2008. I’d come to the US in 1984 and loved America but my heartache and loneliness brought me home. I came with the intent to look after my parents who were both ailing and not faring well. They died in 2012 and 2015 respectively; I am so happy I was able to be there for them. In 2016 I began to have stomach issues, but I was never examined or scanned. I worked very hard, taught spinning and was active with friends and family; I just thought I had too much going on.
I had to have a massive metastasis removed from my pancreas along with both ovaries following 1 year of chemo therapy that almost killed me. My son found an oncologist in Denver, CO who was willing to talk to me. At the time, my doctors in Denmark told me I was terminal and treated me as such. I would have possibly succumbed to treatment had my son not interfered, God Bless him. I did not know anything about the pancreatic cancer community or the support available. My son Jonathan, while studying to become a Physicians Assistant, found a team of doctors who were willing to take me on in Denver where he lives. My doctors in Denmark gave up on me before they even knew what kind of pancreatic cancer I had. They were onboard to explore my cancer and, in the end, remove it.
As it turns out I have a rare form of pancreatic cancer and Microsatelite Instability or MSI, a condition that means my immune system is so unique that it actually helped kill the cancer. Thanks to my oncologist and a team of surgeons who later removed my tumor, I have been cancer free since July, 2018. I am now moving back to the US to be near doctors who know how to handle this disease.
I am grateful for my strong body which conquered the hardest chemotherapy for months on end. As time went on I resigned myself to die, it felt like I was, and I made all the arrangements, but once I got away from the chemo I started to get strong again, walking miles every day with my son's dogs in Denver. After the surgery in July 2018, that removed half of my Pancreas and Spleen, I had serious complications and had stents placed, I also had a clot on my Portal Vein.
I want the world to know what my son, Jonathan, did for me. I also want to honor my friendships. Kathy Stinson and Jane Pomponio flew me for a week of girl fun in March, 2018 and Annelis McGee flew me for a week of relaxation by her pool in Alabama, the week prior to my surgery. They’ve all been very helpful and generous.
When you make a donation in support of pancreatic cancer research, you’re helping the Hirshberg Foundation and our researchers get closer to a cure. Funding scientific advances and programs for patients and families helps provide resources today and offers hope for a cancer-free world in the future.