How a CT Scan Helped Save a Young Father, Husband from Pancreatic Cancer

Linda Davis tells the story of how early detection saved the life of Jim, her husband.

Judith Adele Agentis Foundation

Here are the words of Linda Davis, Jim’s wife.

The ER doctor returned. His face had “that” look; all traces of merriment from our banter about undercooked beans were gone. Eyes were solemn, face composed, mouth no longer smiling. “We have to talk”, he said.

In the next bed over, a drug addict was sweating and freezing at the same time, moaning for a nurse’s attention. I’d just gotten him three blankets from the warmer when the doctors returned with their somber faces. Instinctively I grabbed Jim’s hand as he lay on the gurney and crazily thought how different the doctor’s face was now, compared to when we were all laughing about eating beans.

“The CT scan found a spot in your pancreas. You cannot go home. This could be pancreatic cancer which could kill you in six weeks”, the doctor said. At least that’s what I heard before the alarms in my head shrilled.

We objected. Jim was fine, it was just gas pains.

No, he’s not fine, he has a lump on his pancreas, he recounted.

Okay, we said, let us go home and we will take care of it tomorrow.

Remember Patrick Swayze? This is what killed him, said the doctor.

Patrick had been healthy one month and dead the next, if I recalled correctly. I sank to the floor.

The doctor left to let us talk. Jim was off the bed by this time, pacing, and as he held out his hand to me we exchanged the cancer look. The look that the unbelievable had happened and the future gone. Dazed, somber, unbelieving, scared. All those feelings looked from his eyes.

I hugged him fiercely and said “We haven’t had enough time together yet.” We had 30 years, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t nearly enough.

I decided right then and there I would never let go. We would stand hugging while we made arrangements, stay hugging while they wheeled him up to his room and be together on the operating table because there was no way I was letting go of him. Our three teenagers would just have to cook for themselves and learn to do laundry.

Suddenly I realized the silence that surrounded us. The drug addict was not moaning anymore. He was silent. The curtain was pulled so I couldn’t tell if he passed out or was moved into silence by what he heard. I always hoped that he heard, heard our words and quit drugs forever realizing that life is short. More likely he passed out.

Reluctantly they let us go home with stern warnings not to let one more day go by before addressing this. They said we were lucky the CT scan caught it.

The first doctor said to us: “I look forward to curing a young healthy man”. I looked around the room for a young man. All I saw was Jim, overweight with thinning hair. Then I pictured the other patients in the waiting room and realized that Jim WAS young, compared to them. Wait! I was young too that meant! We were 50, achy and tired, but darn it, we WERE still young. Hope flooded me. There was a lot of life to live yet.

The second doctor was a family friend, and got the same look as the ER doctors when we told him. My heart sank again and I was scared.

The doctor who performed the Whipple surgery was quite unconcerned, even brusque. I didn’t understand his attitude until I arrived at the hospital and saw the ages of the other pancreatic cancer patients. To him, Jim was going to be a piece of cake. Or as much cake as cutting into a pancreas and reattaching ducts, sewing tissue the consistency of warm butter and draining an abdomen open from chest to groin could be.

I got to know the loved ones of the other patients, the 80 year old husband who sat loyally in a chair outside his wife’s room day in and day out, not yet having had enough time with her either. The 40-something wife who wheeled her husband out to the car after his second Whipple surgery. His cancer had returned, but they had caught it again. He went back home to his family, so thankful to see his children’s’ faces, bright with smiles and hope that Daddy was home now. Home to stay forever, as little kids think.

As for us, Jim came home too. Jim went back to his job. Life resumed. We spend lots of time together these days, after once having had it snatched away without warning.

Thanks to a routine CT scan caught something other than what we were looking for, our family thrives. A family with a father is a true family; a family who loses a father is forever changed. To us, preventive scans no longer seem unnecessary, they seem life saving. One saved our family’s life, and just because of that scan we are still all together, and no one misses Dad.