A Self-Advocate From The Start
“I wasn’t sick. I just had a weird pain that didn’t feel right,” Jeannine explained. An ultrasound, CT scan, and MRI gave little insight as to what was wrong. The only concrete answer given was that her pancreatic duct was enlarged. “If you feel in your gut and in your heart that something just isn’t right, you need to request a second opinion.”
Determined to find an answer, she sought the expertise of Dr. Steven Gallinger at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto. While her case was unique due to an atypical tumor presentation, within two and a half weeks a diagnosis was finally provided: adenocarcinoma at the head of the pancreas. Surgery was promptly booked and the road to recovery began. Though some hurdles would arise along the way, Jeannine never stopped advocating for her needs.
“My hospital roommate would say, ‘I’m so proud of you. You really speak up for yourself.’ And I said, ‘well you know what? I know my body. I’m not discounting their medical expertise, but they have to listen to me,’” Jeannine said.
After successfully completing chemotherapy in March 2021, Jeannine underwent regular scans which consistently confirmed zero evidence of metastatic disease. Jeannine could officially call herself a ‘pancreatic cancer survivor’ and begin to return to her active lifestyle.
A Rare Metastases
By May 2022, Jeannine began to experience subtle but unusual changes in her body that impacted her ballroom dancing and Pilates practice. Sudden upper back pain and distorted posture quickly devolved into paralysis of her right arm, yet an x-ray and MRI of Jeannine’s back and shoulder failed to pinpoint the cause. By the end of the month, a sudden seizure confirmed the situation was dire. Jeannine was rushed to Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital where she received a CT scan of her head. It was clear to her that once again, something was wrong.
“That’s when the doctor told me that there was a tumor on the left side of my brain, which affects the right side’s movements,” she explained. “A frontal parietal tumor.” Doctors worked quickly to refer Jeannine to Trillium Health Neurosurgery Critical Care for immediate consultation Two days later, the attending neurosurgeon delivered an alarming prognosis for the fast-growing mass.
“He said, ‘I’m 99% certain that this tumor is a metastasis from your pancreatic cancer. You’re probably the only case I’ve ever had because that’s how rare it is,’” Jeannine explained. Cases of brain metastases from pancreatic cancer have less than a 1% chance of ever occurring. Unfortunately, reports of this rare condition may be hindered by the lack of screening tests and a dramatically low survival rate for pancreatic cancer.
Fortunately for Jeannine, neurosurgery was completed quickly and without complications, though she confirms the ongoing recovery from this cancer battle has proven to be much more difficult than the first. Without the freedom to enjoy her various hobbies, and with the need for regular assistance, Jeannine has certainly felt the weight of her cancer metastases.
Surrounding Yourself With Support
“This journey is really hard. I’m really struggling emotionally this time, more than the first time,” she said. “It’s hard not being able to do simple things. Everything just feels like a challenge.” Thankfully Jeannine has been fortunate to have the support of her family, very dear friends as well as a caring circle of women, to assist her with everyday tasks and help lift her spirits.
“I didn’t want people who were going to look at me with that look of blue. I wanted people who were going to help me keep my interest in God, stay positive, try to enjoy each day and remember that each day is a gift,” she explained.
With her experience as a Peer Support volunteer with Wellspring, in addition to her role as a life coach, Jeannine encourages fellow cancer patients to surround themselves with empathetic, supportive people who will advocate on your behalf when necessary. In this sense, she is following her own advice.
While still actively fighting her cancer, she continues her work as a life coach and is an aspiring author, working on her first book. These accomplishments are complimented by her unwavering advocacy efforts. Her unique battle has confirmed the need to further educate and raise awareness not only for pancreatic cancer, but for how the disease can metastasize as well.
“It either happens in the liver or somewhere in their stomach. I’ve not heard anybody ever talk to me about the brain,” she explained. “It’s just so rare. I really want to bring awareness to it, that it could happen.” Jeannine urges pancreatic cancer survivors to be diligent self-advocates as they attend follow-up appointments.
“If you’re going for your scans, don’t forget about the brain.”