You Have Been Diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer

Any cancer diagnosis is scary. A pancreatic cancer diagnosis is absolutely frightening. I cannot pretend to know what you must be feeling. I know it was difficult for my husband to talk to me about it. For the most part, we just held one another. Cancer remained the elephant in the room. So I can only share with you my thoughts and experiences from the perspective of a caregiver.

Understand Your Diagnosis

This means not just getting all the information on the disease from your doctor, but understanding it. And this involves asking questions and demanding jargon-free explanations. It's extremely helpful to have a family member or friend with you to record the discussions so you and your doctor can be on the same page throughout the course of your treatment.

Be Persistent

Because many of the best doctors for this disease are in high demand appointments can take weeks or months—time you do not have. A recommendation from your doctor—especially if they have a relationship with a high-volume pancreatic cancer center—might help in getting an earlier appointment. So will perseverance. If the earliest appointment you can get is still weeks away, call regularly to see if the doctor can squeeze you in sooner. Be direct, but never be rude. Tell your story but remember that the receptionist or nurse has heard similar stories before. Ask them for and address them by their names. If you can't make these calls yourself, line-up a persuasive friend to advocate on your behalf.

Mental Health & Sleep

The distress of finding out you have pancreatic cancer can seem overwhelming. You will need all of your strength to fight this disease, so don't hesitate to seek medical help for other symptoms that you may be experiencing such as depression and insomnia. Do not suffer in silence. Surround yourself with friends and family who can support you and assist you in maintaining your mental health.


What and how much you eat is an important component with digestive cancers and is very important to the pancreatic cancer patient, especially if surgery is a component of care. Speak to your doctor or oncologist about specific nutritional needs you might have, and work with either your hospital's nutritionist or a doctor-recommended specialist to address issues such as weight loss.

Pain Management

Pain can be effectively managed with many different types of treatments, some of which are used in combination with others. Discuss with your medical team the different options that are available to you. Again, it might be helpful to have a friend or family member by your side taking notes.

Palliative Care

Doctors and patients need to balance the medicines fighting the disease with the damage and pain they might inflict. Sometimes, the benefits outweigh the risks. Sometimes they do not. Palliative care focuses on the comfort of the patient as opposed to fighting the disease. And sometimes, comfort is more important

However, this is a very personal decision so it might be something you want to discuss with your doctor early in your treatment regimen.

Alternative Medicine

Some hospitals offer alternative treatments while others do not. Should you choose to pursue massage therapy, acupuncture or other alternative treatments that some patients have found helpful, discuss them with your medical team and make sure they are aware of any alternative treatments you may be receiving.

Assign a Health Care Proxy

A health care proxy is a person who can make medical decisions on your behalf if you are mentally or physically unable to do so. You have to select someone you trust unquestioningly. And that person must be comfortable in making vital and informed decisions. This requires a frank discussion that includes examining all the possible scenarios and deciding how you'd like your proxy to address them.

Have a Will

I know there are so many things going on right now. But this is a very serious illness. You are doing everything you can to fight for your life. But you also want to care and provide for your family and loved ones. Make sure you have a will and that it has been properly updated. If you don't have one or need to make changes, you'll need to work with a lawyer. Also, make sure friends and family know where you keep your financial and legal documents.