Pancreatic Cancer Survivor Defies Prognosis

Written By:Stacy Simon

Chrissy Dunn, 47, says her family’s world was shattered when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July 2015. She had been in the hospital for 9 days with back and stomach pain before the tumor was found and checked for cancer. The cancer had already spread and was in Stage III.

Doctors told Dunn they couldn’t remove the tumor with surgery because veins and arteries were involved. They recommended chemotherapy that was so aggressive, they warned her she might not be able to tolerate it. They said her chances of survival were slim.

“The first time I walked into the chemotherapy room I was scared out of my mind, but it became a place of comfort,” said Dunn. “Now I miss the people in the infusion room. The nurse who treated me became a friend of mine and we prayed together. It became a very spiritual, comforting place for me.”

Surprisingly, Dunn did not have a hard time with the chemo and her tumor began to shrink. Her oncologist told her surgery may be a possibility after all and she traveled from her home in Alabama to meet with a surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He told her to have 4 more cycles of chemo in Alabama, and then he would schedule her for surgery. But when the time came, scans showed the tumor had spread to Dunn’s liver, and surgery was once again ruled out.

Dunn says the news hit her “like a kick in the stomach.” But her oncologist in Alabama refused to give up. He ordered an MRI which contradicted the earlier scans. It showed no evidence of cancer in Dunn’s liver. She sought a second opinion at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla. Surgeons there agreed to operate.

Dunn had surgery to remove her pancreas, gallbladder, and spleen, and parts of her colon and liver. To everyone’s surprise, Dunn’s veins and arteries were no longer involved, and a vascular surgeon was not needed.

"I've learned to look at things as blessings that I used to just take for granted. The shoes I put on my feet, the hot water when I take a bath... every single aspect of my life is a blessing."

Chrissy Dunn

It took Dunn about 6 weeks to recover from the surgery, but today she is back to work in her t-shirt screening business. “It took a while to get my strength and appetite back up but I feel normal,” said Dunn. Because the pancreas makes insulin to control blood sugar and enzymes to digest food, Dunn now needs to take insulin injections and enzyme pills every day.

She says the experience has given her a new perspective on life: “Every day is beautiful and I’ve learned to look at things as blessings that I used to just take for granted. The shoes I put on my feet, the hot water when I take a bath – every single aspect of my life is a blessing. I’ve never been involved in any cancer events before, but now that it’s affected me personally, I’m very passionate about it. I pray for a cure. I know it’s coming.”

Last year, Dunn participated in Relay For Life of Washington County, her local event in Alabama. American Cancer Society Relay For Life events are held every year in communities around the world, raising money to invest in research and to provide information and services to cancer patients and caregivers. This year, Dunn is on a committee for survivors and caregivers. She wants to help other survivors by giving them inspiration and hope through her story. She tells others, “keep looking for options, and keep your faith. God took what was the scariest time in my life and turned it into a time of blessings and miracles. I am forever indebted.”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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