Last year, Lynn Carter’s excellent health was disrupted by intermittent fevers. Her daughter, physician Sarah Davis was concerned, but her mom’s fevers never lasted long. Finally in October, 2016, when Lynn developed a high fever and chills, Sarah asked her mom to please go to her internist. When Lynn hesitated, Sarah insisted she come in to her Obstetrician/Gynecology practice immediately.
Sarah’s medical partner examined Lynn and ordered blood tests. When some of the blood test results came back outside the normal range, the doctor had the lab tech perform an ultrasound of Lynn’s abdomen. Sarah recalls her tech coming in looking somewhat bewildered, saying, “I think there’s a mass in your mom’s pancreas.”
Sarah’s office ordered a CT scan immediately. “Twenty-four hours later, I found out my mom had a malignant mass,” Sarah says. In that moment, their family’s life as they knew it changed.
Lynn Carter: The Center of the Family
Sarah comes from a tight-knit family, and she is extremely close with her mom. “I live in Birmingham, AL, and my parents are a huge part of my life,” she explains. “My mom has been the center of our family. She is the nurturer and she takes care of everyone. My mom is very selfless. She keeps tabs on my two sisters and me and is always sending us things.”
Once an editor and manager for a southern/coastal living magazine, Lynn retired when she was 60. Since then, she has helped care for Sarah’s children, Lily, Ben and Ella. Knowing her mom can provide her kids with loving care eases any stress Sarah feels from her hectic work schedule.
Lynn has always been exceptionally robust, strong and health-conscious. “She is this healthy, amazing person. She is always sending us articles on things like sunscreen or organic food,” Sarah recalls. It seemed unfathomable for Lynn to have any kind of cancer, let alone pancreatic cancer.
There was actually a history of pancreatic cancer in the family, however. Lynn’s own father had passed away from the illness. Sarah was concerned there might be a genetic link that could impact the entire family. Lynn underwent genetic testing, however, which showed no genetic cause for her illness.
When the CT scan showed unequivocally that Lynn had pancreatic cancer, the Davis family immediately jumped to action. “We are fortunate in Birmingham,” Sarah says. “We have a small but excellent medical center. My mom had a successful Whipple surgery followed by a hard six-month course of chemotherapy.” Her doctor determined her cancer to be Stage 2B. Sarah adds, “She is doing remarkably well now, even though the diagnosis is always so guarded. It has been a huge journey for us all and we are incredibly hopeful because her first follow-up scan was good.”
Sarah Davis Signs on to Run with Project Purple
Last fall Sarah started toying with the idea of running a marathon for pancreatic cancer. She ran the St. Jude’s Marathon in 2015, but her work schedule often does not allow her the time she needs to train properly.
However, when Sarah discovered Project Purple and saw the charity is a partner with the Chicago Marathon, she knew she needed to sign on. “I wanted to do something big and have something positive to look forward to. I have wanted to do Chicago for years as I’ve heard it is an amazing race and just thought it would be a cool one to run.” Running Chicago in honor of her mom just felt right.
Sarah has done a lot of soul searching since her mom’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis. “You know your parents will, at some point, have a medical issue. It’s still surprising when they do.” She continues, “This whole year has really brought home to me life is so short. You know that and you say that, and you try to act like you know it, but when she was diagnosed, life as we knew it became drastically different.”
“My mom’s cancer fight has made me question a lot of things and made me want to change things in my own life. I ask myself ‘What are you doing here? Are you really spending your time in a meaningful, impactful way?’”
The Need for Research
Sarah has also learned more than she ever wanted to know about how poorly understood pancreatic cancer still is. Her husband works in leukemia research, so when Lynn was diagnosed, he contacted colleagues all over the country to get the latest information on pancreatic cancer. “What was so disturbing was the lack of progress that’s been made,” Sarah says. “He came to understand some of the cellular reasons why this cancer is so hard to crack. We need more researchers and more funding for research but our government is threatening to substantially cut funding for cancer research. We have the chance to be research leaders in our country, but we need to be putting a lot more funding into it. It is a shame we don’t have more to offer these patients.”
As scientists continue to unravel the mysteries of pancreatic cancer, Sarah hopes her mom will continue to remain cancer free. For now, Sarah continues to train for the Chicago Marathon and raise money in hopes of finding a cure.
To make a donation to Sarah Davis’ Project Purple Chicago Marathon fundraiser, please click HERE