Dianne’s journey with cancer has been challenging, but she has shown tremendous strength, faith, and resilience throughout her treatment. She had been undergoing treatment for ulcerative colitis for some time, so having gut woes was something with which she was familiar. However, in July 2019 just after celebrating her 71st birthday, she was feeling absolutely beyond the usual gastro sickness. She had voracious vomiting and went to visit her primary care physician. Her doctor ran bloodwork and said to go to the hospital right away for tests. The result- pancreatic cancer. She was shocked because no one in her family has a history of cancer. And then to make matters worse, it was discovered that she also has lung cancer which was determined inoperable because it was close to her heart. In August she started nine rounds of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor in her pancreas. She was devastated when hair fell out after her second chemo treatment. It was coming out in clumps, so she had her husband cut her hair. This allowed her to wear a wig that she had recently bought after being told by the doctors and others that she would lose her hair. Her hair did grow back after several months, and it grew back curly and kinky and pretty much grey, but nevertheless it came back!
In December she went in for a Whipple surgery which is a pancreaticoduodenectomy, the removal of the pancreas. She underwent the 7-hour surgery to remove her pancreas, gall bladder, spleen, and part of her stomach. They cut her from her rib cage to her naval leaving staples and tubes while she recovered in the hospital for ten days. Her large circle of family and friends, maybe twenty people, were in the waiting room to support her. She and her husband have a large family of children- three sons, nine grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren. “I was scared to death, but I’m a Christian and I believe with all my heart that God would take care of me” affirmed Dianne. After being discharged and home for one day, she was feeling lousy and needed help with the pain and horrible discomfort. She landed back in the hospital for a week to get her medicines and diabetes under control. She recalls a loving cancer nurse who got down on her knees and prayed for her, with her.
After recovering from surgery and getting back on her feet in January, Dianne started radiation treatment for her lung cancer with five days a week radiation and one day a week immunotherapy. She got really sick from the treatments and had to be admitted to the hospital for seven days on antibiotics. Her oncologist, Dr. Shehadeh, said no more immunotherapy! She was under cancer care with Dr. Shehadeh first at Novant cancer center and followed him over when he joined Oncology Specialists of Charlotte. Dianne proclaimed “I was definitely going to follow Dr. Shehadeh to continue my care with this fantastic doctor. He is genuinely concerned about me in not just my health, but my wellbeing and my quality of life. I can attest that I received the best care and quickly. I am blessed to have him as my provider. He along with much prayer got me where I am today.”
Dianne found solace in keeping herself busy and trying to maintain a sense of normalcy during treatments. She had heard about this from others who were undergoing chemo. She tried to maintain her life as normal as possible with activities she loved doing like going to church and singing, the beach trips, and everyday activities, despite having changes such as protein shakes for meals versus her usual food intake. “I didn’t get here on my own”, Dianne stated “I had a huge support and encouragement of family and friends.” She credits her husband for taking over and caring for her and tending to household chores.
In November of 2022, finally, Dianne felt her colon was good and she felt more normal. Her scans came back negative- hallelujah! In remission. She was cleared by her oncologist, Dr. Shehadeh, to come back in six months for a scan and bloodwork check, and if she goes a year more without evidence of disease, she can switch from six-month checks to one year.
While she reports feeling incredibly better than in 2019 when cancer struck, there are some aftereffects that were difficult. She developed diabetes as a result of her treatment and now requires medication and dietary adjustment to manage her insulin levels. While she is conscious of what she eats, she reports that moderation is key and to savor an occasional scoop of ice cream; an essential to enjoy the simple things in life.
Dianne believes in sharing her story to inspire and provide hope to other cancer patients, emphasizing the importance of being prepared and not in denial. She looks forward to beach trips this summer with her husband and living life to the fullest. “I don’t feel like I’m sick at all,” Dianne said, “I feel so free now and I am truly a miracle! And I want to tell my story to encourage and give hope to other cancer patients.”