Kevin King remembers the exact date when he first felt a strange queasy sensation in his stomach: November 18, 2013. Kevin was an otherwise healthy, fit and active 57-years-old man who never imagined there was anything seriously wrong. Yet, within just weeks, Kevin learned he had a potentially deadly tumor growing in his pancreas. While he has been through a lot these past few years, Kevin is a survivor who continues to thrive following his battle with pancreatic cancer.
Nearly three years ago, when Kevin first saw his primary care doctor, he was quickly scheduled for an ultrasound. On November 26th, 2013, this test showed a strange shadow on Kevin’s pancreas. While no one broached the topic of pancreatic cancer at this point, Kevin was scheduled for an MRI on December 11th, 2013. This test gave the doctor a better view of organs deep within the abdomen. Unfortunately, it showed a tumor in the head of Kevin’s pancreas.
Though people gave Kevin all kinds of advice about where he should travel for treatment, he wanted to stay close to home. A week later, the Connecticut resident met with Dr. Salem at Yale University. Dr. Salem recommended an Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS) with biopsy. Once this test was completed, the King family learned for the first time that Kevin had pancreatic cancer.
The shock of a pancreatic cancer diagnosis
Kevin remembers feeling shocked and afraid to learn he had pancreatic cancer. He says, “It was so out of left field. I had no symptoms. I Googled information about pancreatic cancer. That is the worst thing you can possibly do because there is so little hope. From late November through New Year’s, it was really tough just getting up in the morning.”
Fortunately, Kevin’s medical team at Yale was prepared to help him deal with his feelings. He explains, “The people at Yale talked me off a cliff. I am normally a positive person and I never had any health issues. I have no history of pancreatic cancer. I don’t drink or smoke. I exercise. I was not overweight. I wondered where this illness could have come from. Then the people at Yale used the words ‘cure plan’. I had never read anything on the internet to do with a cure plan.”
His doctor’s optimism buoyed Kevin’s spirits. Though his tumor was deemed to be contained to the pancreas, it was dangerously close to an artery. The plan was for him to receive chemotherapy designed to shrink the tumor away from the artery enough so he could have the Whipple surgery. For 20 weeks, Kevin had chemotherapy every other week. He participated in a clinical trial where he was given a drug to help with the chemotherapy side effects. He had some minor fatigue and was very sensitive to the cold, but otherwise tolerated his regimen quite well.
Kevin has the Whipple Surgery
Finally, in July, 2014, Kevin had his Whipple surgery. From a medical standpoint, the surgery was a complete success. His surgeon was confident he had removed the entire tumor. After spending a few days in the hospital, Kevin returned home to heal. His incision was sore for six weeks following the procedure, but he was able to keep himself up and moving throughout his recovery period.
It has now been over two years since Kevin had his Whipple. Despite the serious nature of this surgery, he has healed well. “I don’t feel much different than I did before the surgery other than the fact that I don’t have a belly button anymore!” Sometimes, the longest lasting effects from cancer are not physical. The stress from repeated scans and follow-up testing is still a part of Kevin’s life. “I would like to feel like I am past this, but I have to go in for scans and there is always a chance of recurrence. The waiting is the hardest part. Any time you have a test or a scan, it is horrible.”
Priorities: Family First
While many people have an epiphany after they receive a life-threatening diagnosis, Kevin had his many years ago. “I lost a friend in the World Trade Center attack. He had worked around the clock in a very high-pressured job. He did well financially, but lost a lot of time with his young children. I am sure if he had it all to do over again, he would have spent more time on the soccer field and less at company dinners.”
Losing this friend helped Kevin get his own priorities straight. He says, “I had already come to the conclusion that I had to focus my priorities in 2001, way before my health issues. When I got my diagnosis, it reconfirmed my feelings about what is most important.”
The Kings has been married for 37 years and they have three grown children: daughters Jackie and Erin, and son, Patrick. In the past few years, he has had the pleasure of dancing at both of his daughters’ weddings. He has one grandchild and twin granddaughters on the way in December and another grandchild due next May. He believes that his illness has brought his family closer together these past few years, as they all now focus on what is really important in life.
Community Support is an Important Part of the Battle
Community support was very important to Kevin as he recuperated from his cancer treatments. Though he had never been into social media before, he joined Facebook and wrote about his diagnosis and treatment to keep his family and friends updated. People rallied around him during this time, and he realized how important that network of friends and family is for one’s health. Kevin believes that we need to do a better job of helping to support pancreatic cancer patients. Their emotional health is directly connected to their physical health.
Raising Fund and Awareness for Pancreatic Cancer
Though Kevin used to work for a big bank, he has been with the same community bank in Connecticut for the past 11 years. He loves being on a first name basis with all of the bank’s employees and he was particularly touched by the outpouring of support from employees after his Whipple Surgery. His community bank is set to help raise awareness on World Pancreatic Cancer Day on November 17, 2016, in conjunction with Project Purple, a gesture Kevin appreciates greatly.
Kevin believes it is important to raise awareness for pancreatic cancer, because most people do not know where a pancreas is or what it does, and unless someone has been directly impacted by the illness, they may not understand how deadly it is. In addition, it is imperative to continue raising money for pancreatic cancer research, Kevin believes. “People don’t realize the severity of this disease until it hits home and research dollars are hard to come by these days.”
To help those who are currently fighting pancreatic cancer, please make a donation to Project Purple’s 50 in 50 campaign. All of the money raised will go to help patients!