Cancer Updates IRL

I Have A Cancer That Is Confusing My Doctors

I felt something on my neck one evening after a really long day of work. After I got examined, I was told it may be cancer.

2020 started off on the track to be one of the best years of my life.

I tied the knot with the love of my life in August 2019 in a small ceremony while we my wife spent a tremendous amount of time before and after that to plan our big fat Indian wedding later in January 2020. Our wedding was grand, exhausting, euphoric, and everything in between. Heck, I even looked like an Indian Prince for a day!

We thanked our lucky stars a few months after our wedding when the pandemic really took off that we were able to go through with our wedding and that we were in a good place financially to weather the effects global downturn while so many people were not so lucky.

Fast forward to last July and I was having a really bad day at work. I was more stressed than usual about falling behind in my ever piling amount of work and the pandemic/stay-at-home fatigue was really starting to set in really hard. I remember getting off the phone with a client and feeling this bump on my neck. It seemed out of place and I started to panic a little after I remember reading this article about a TV reporter discovering she has cancer after a viewer noticed a lump on her neck.

RELATED: TV reporter discovers she has cancer after a viewer noticed a suspicious lump on her neck (CNN)

I ran out of my home office to my wife in the next door living room rubbing my neck – “this is really weird”, I told her. “I think you should call our GP and get it looked at” she replied.

The very next day was our first marriage anniversary and before we went away to the beach for a romantic weekend, I got an ultrasound of my neck done which received a swollen lymph node. I told my GP this over the phone and he recommended I get even more tests done because this could mean a lot of things.

At this point, I had a small inkling that it could be cancer that was on par with my plan-for-the-worst-hope-for-the-best mentality. What I didn’t expect were all the tests I had to do in the next 11 weeks to finally arrive at my diagnosis. These tests included:

  • Ultrasound of neck
  • Fine Needle Aspiration Cytology
  • Upper GI Endoscopy
  • Upper Body CT Scan
  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan
  • Core Biopsy
  • Multiple Histological Pathology Tests On Biopsy
  • Ultrasound of abdomen
  • Chest X-Ray
  • Colonoscopy
  • Capsule Endoscopy
  • Too Many Oncologist visits to count

I could have sworn I’ve spent more time in the various hospitals I visited in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in the last 11 weeks than I had spent in hospitals my entire life. So much fasting. So much blood drawn. So many confused Specialists!

Just before heading into my PET scan. I looked thrilled…

The biggest source of uncertainty came from the fact that I was showing absolutely no symptoms. Throughout this whole process, I carried on with my normal life – working, exercising, and enjoying life in general. The scans revealed that I have a cancerous mass in my abdomen but why was my body not reacting like it?

I mean, this is a picture of me whilst writing this post. I don’t look like I have cancer, do I?

Drum roll, please!

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering what I’ve been diagnosed with. Here goes.

After 11 weeks of testing, my Doctors have diagnosed me with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. They also informed me that this is a chronic condition that will require ongoing treatment to suppress.

To be honest, I was expecting this to maybe last 6 – 12 months tops and the stark reality of having to live with this disease for the rest of my life was something I didn’t even consider to be a possibility until I was told roughly 9 – 10 weeks into this whole thing.

My first chemotherapy session is expected to start in less than 48 hours so I scrambled to get this post together. I intend to keep writing through the whole experience as much as possible to keep my family and friends updated as much as possible. It is also my hope that my experience could one day help someone who has or knows someone else with the same cancer diagnosis.

Although I’m almost 3 months into this now, it is all just getting started.

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Nico Atienza

Chief Storyteller

An expat remote worker based in Colombo, Sri Lanka with a penchant for window seats on planes, travel, and technology that makes everyone’s lives easier.