Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

By Susan Phillips

Note from George:  With the Indianapolis 500 practice just  a couple of days away, I wanted to give Susan a chance today to share some really good news that we have recently gotten, before we get into hard-core IndyCar racing for the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, she has also gotten some rather unpleasant news. I guess we are learning to take the bad with the good. – GP

Some days I wake up in the morning and I forget I have cancer–that my life was the way it was before; before I worried about Tumor Markers, cell counts, ports, and the like. I try to stay positive most of the time, but I’m having a hard time this week, although I have some wonderful news to share here in a bit.

But first – my hair has begun to fall out, slowly but surely, there it goes. For me it will be the first obvious outward sign that I have cancer. So far I have managed to not look so “cancery”—I’ve lost weight and that makes me look older—its amazing how much fat fills out your wrinkles, but I haven’t had to wear headscarves or wigs yet, but its coming. “It’s just hair” everyone says, but its more than that, it’s a sign that the chemo is working, so I can put that positive spin on it, but it is my HAIR. Will I have an ugly bald head?

When it comes down to it and all I have are thin strands of hair clinging to my head, will George be able to shave the rest of it off? Talk about one of the most intimate moments between a couple. He has stepped up to every other need I have had. He always says he is superficial, and during the quarantine, I had to cut his hair several times. Will he still look at me that same way when I actually begin to look sick? Many women ask this question. It is probably the hardest mental thing that women face. I know it sounds like I’m not giving George much credit here, but getting a potentially terminal illness makes you question just about everything in your life. Every insecurity that you have comes rushing to the surface. I’m sure we will cross this hurdle and come out stronger at the end.

I don’t want to make the first of this post a complete downer. I’m actually physically feeling pretty good. My last round of chemo didn’t knock me to my knees like the first one did. I’m resting when I need to and eating healthier. I’m disappointed that I don’t get to drink unlimited milk shakes and chocolate cake to keep my weight up, but since I have pancreatic cancer, I have to watch my blood sugar, so there goes all the carbs I had planned on eating. I did manage a little pole dance around my infusion pole at the Oncology center. The other patients there got a kick out of it–maybe not so much the nurses. I’m trying to keep my sense of humor because it has seen me through many difficult times.

I was really disappointed that Indy was going to run without fans this year, we were hoping to be in the Media Center and at least see some of our racing family, but we will have to wait until next year. I am so glad we had the opportunity to go to Road America in July. It was the perfect break from our altered life. It was nice to forget that I have cancer and zoom around one of my favorite tracks on our trusty golf cart. We did see many of our friends and it was great. I’m sad that that will be our racing schedule for the year, but I probably don’t need to be going out among the masses right now anyway.

But now the good news, and this is really big! Next month we will be going to the Mayo Clinic to consult with one of the leading pancreatic surgeons in the United States—and maybe the world. Like George’s dad, this surgeon’s father died of pancreatic cancer some 20 years ago. He was frustrated that there was so little advancement with treatments for this form of cancer, he has made it his life’s mission. He is one of only three to four in the world that can successfully surgically remove tumors like mine that are normally considered “inoperable”, because the tumor is intertwined among the blood vessels inside the pancreas. It is a grueling fourteen hour surgery, where he carefully reconstructs the blood vessels.

He has been doing this surgery for more than ten years and more than half of his patients are still alive. Instead of adding a few months, like my chemo does, he is adding years to his patients lives with a much higher quality of life too. To top things off, he is even curing some people with Stage 3 pancreatic cancer (like mine). They are still cancer-free more than five years after surgery. That was unheard of with pancreatic cancer just a few years ago.

His approach is to get the tumor out early before it spreads. The more common approach by most oncologists is to hopefully shrink the tumor enough though chemo, and then do the surgery. But even my local oncologist has told us that is only successful 20% of the time. The other 80% will last for only 12-18 months. Neither of us were willing to simply settle for that fate. Fortunately, I have joined a Facebook pancreatic cancer group. They told me it sounded like I would be an ideal candidate for Dr. Truty at the Mayo Clinic. We started doing research and liked what we found. George called our insurance and verified the coverage, and then he called the Mayo Clinic and talked with them extensively. They told him all the test results they needed as well as disks of my scans. We FedExed everything up to them to review. Within a week, they called and said I was a good candidate and they would treat me.

I fit the two most important criteria for this type of surgery. I am Stage 3, meaning the tumor is intertwined among the blood vessels; and fortunately my cancer has not spread. It is still localized in my pancreas. In September, we will spend four days at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The first day, I will be poked, prodded and will endure multiple scans. Over the next few days, we will meet with the super-surgeon, and the next day he will insert a laparoscopic camera in me to get a good look around so he will know exactly what he’s getting into when he does the surgery.

I’m not looking forward to the 12 hour drive, but flying may be a little risky with all of the COVID cases we have seen emerge lately. So wish us luck on our endeavor. Hopefully Dr. Truty will be able to remove this tumor earlier, so that it’s not hanging around in my body spreading it’s evil. I will still undergo chemo before and after the surgery, and most likely undergo radiation after the surgery also. That’s not going to help my hair loss. I am nervous and scared, but I’m also excited. This now makes me feel like I’ve got a real chance of getting through this, rather than just becoming another pancreatic cancer statistic.

I have been so grateful for the outpouring of support from our Oilpressure family. I am truly humbled by the fact that we have touched your lives in some small way. You have definitely made a difference in our lives. So continue to pray for us—pray especially for George because he has a lot on his plate right now. The loss of his mother was so hard, but I feel like she is looking out for us and will help guide us through this time.

30 Responses to “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow”

  1. All best wishes to you both. I trust everything goes well.

  2. Leslie Bissell Says:

    Susan, this is wonderful news concerning the Mayo Clinic. You and George are in my prayers. There is truly no place like Mayo. The care they offer is truly exceptional in every respect.

  3. Susan , the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Mn. is fantastic they will treat you and George with dignity and compassion and as you know their physicians are the best. You can not be in better hands. The initial day or two you may feel like just one of many patients but they have a system and are very organized. It’s been 26 years since I was there for my dad so I can only assume it’s only gotten better.

    Best of luck to you . With IMS 2021 now a target for us all ,I am confident you will be there with the rest of us next May

    • Seconded this — when I was treated at Mayo as a “third opinion” for my medical issue when the options were invasive intervention or do nothing, they put a great team together from multiple specialties to review, consult and inform me to make the best decision possible. You will find a group of caregivers, researchers, analysts and technicians that will give all they can to find an answer, follow a course of treatment and keep you informed. Although you’ll feel like a number at check in, as David said, you will receive personal, caring attention. The Dr’s on your team are in the room with you to answer questions a lot, and explain. Safe travels on the trip to Rochester and best of luck, Mrs. Oilpressure.
      Our thoughts and prayers are with you and George and your families during your treatments. I appreciate hearing of your thoughts, process and outcomes as your fight continues.

  4. What great news. Glad to hear there is some hope for this awful disease.

  5. Denise Weltzin Says:

    Such encouraging news! Sending all positive thoughts to both of you.

  6. So happy to hear the positive news on the treatment front. While not any of the readers’ personal business, I think we all appreciate hearing whatever you choose to share, as well as wish nothing but the very best of outcomes. Continued best thoughts to you both.

  7. You’l get great treatment at Mayo. Brother had kidney transplant there 25 years ago and is still going strong. We will pray for you every day. Stay strong.

  8. James T Suel Says:

    Your good news is wonderful. We will continue to pray and support you and George anyway we can. .thanks for updating us. All the best.

  9. Susan,
    Kathy and I can share in the small victories of chemo. Right before we got together, she had gone through back to back to back days of pretty radical chemo. Got to admit, when she showed up down here, seeing her without her long blonde locks was a shock, but we have made it out the other side and now, she’s back to having hair again: Not long hair yet, but she’s past the wig stage which is a really good thing as hot as it has been this summer .

    Hopefully, next May, all this Corona madness will be behind us and maybe we can get together with the two of you for a sandwich and a libation at Dawson’s . Until then our continued prayers and good wishes will l be with you.

  10. Rick Johnson Says:

    Susan, that is very encouraging news. My best wishes for a successful outcome.

  11. Susan, thank you so much for sharing your journey with us. I’m so grateful for the encouraging news about Mayo. I continue to pray for you and George.

  12. curtcavin Says:

    I spent a week at Mayo last November; it is an incredible place with amazing people and the most efficient process imaginable. You will feel important to them. Best of luck.

  13. Mindy Patrick Says:

    Susan (and George),

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. I am so happy to hear that you have been accepted for treatment at Mayo. This is great news!! Praying for strength for both of you during the upcoming weeks.

  14. billytheskink Says:

    Very happy to hear that you’ll be going to the Mayo, Susan. Keep fighting and we will keep praying continually for you and for George.

  15. That’s my sister’s doctor. He’s incredible. She is cancer free in her pancreas over 2 years now. So great news for you. Of course she live in a small town 15 minutes from Rochester so that’s a real plus.

  16. Jimmy Gray Says:

    Susan you and George are in our prayers. It sounds like you two are tackling this head on and, in my opinion, that is the only way to deal with cancer. Don’t accept it!! Fight it, curse it, kill it, make it sorry it ever was stupid enough to interrupt your schedule. As for Indy: It sucks so much BUT it has been there for over 100 years and I look forward to seeing you and George while spending time doing what we all love so much.

  17. Susan – What wonderful news to share!! I am so happy that you are a prime candidate for this surgery at the Mayo clinic. Keep us posted and know that you are in our thoughts every day.


    I admire…and have deep respect for George who is climbing mountains to make sure his bride has the utmost care and outcome….but, I marvel at your courage Susan, your humor, and your determination! It’s breathtaking!

  19. Susan you are in my thoughts and prayers.

  20. Prayers and super positive healthy vibes your way Susan!! May Gods healing and blessings be upon you!! 🙏

  21. Lynn Weinberg Says:

    Susan, you are so inspiring. I was in tears one paragraph into your post, and laughing and happy at the end. Your positive outlook and sense of humor is contagious. I’m so happy to hear about the Mayo Clinic. Thank you for sharing this personal journey with us.

  22. Talón de Brea Says:

    Thinking of you, Susan (and George). Good news in tough times that you have a chance to punch back … and that you have a world-class medical team on your side and your husband in your corner. Don’t worry about your new “aero kit” — George will just cherish you that much more.

  23. Gary Manes Says:

    Praying for both of you. Sounds like you have a great positive attitude going which is very important for your full recovery.

  24. That is absolutely wonderful news Susan! Praying for you and George. Your attitude is amazing!

  25. Jim Gallo Says:

    Susan, you have such a strong and positive attitude towards an evil within. Your strength and determination will be the driving force to successfully rid this evil. We are wishing you the best blessings possible and a safe travel to and fro. Stay strong please.

  26. James T Suel Says:

    First great news for Susan!! The race was good in my opinion. On the pit call I did not want either driver called on that one. But Sato was in the far right lane and Rossi came into him. This kind of crop is the result of to many goofy rules! Closing the pit just to get everyone bunched up and pit at the same time is pure nonsense. This is supposed to be racing ,not a dam game. If your lucky and a yellow come when you are at pit entry you should be able to take advantage of it. I don’t like speed limit in the pits either. They have hit more crew with these rules than they ever did , when it was pure racing! Sato was flat out running Dixon at the end. His crew were telling him Sato did not have the fuel to finish, if true then they cost Dixon the win. There was only a 1 lap difference in there last pit lap. Bad call on Hulls part. It seems now that regardless of what takes place social me will light up with complaints. I never thought they would red flag it with that few laps and the damage to the pit retainer.

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