In late 2019, I began planning for the upcoming election year here in San Francisco - how to track new candidates running for office, which propositions may be on the ballot, how I could report on it all. Additionally, I was collaborating with a colleague on the creation of a local ballot initiative as well, working tirelessly to follow the city’s guidelines in crafting the legal text and steps for submitting the document package for approval.
At the same time in early January of 2020, I faced a life-changing report; doctors confirmed the little mark on a CT scan, and follow up tests, revealed I indeed had pancreatic cancer, and I would need to begin chemotherapy a few weeks later. The good news was the tumor was small and had not metastasized. Taking an aggressive approach with a heavy regimen of chemotherapy would provide the best outcome, along with surgery to remove the tumor and a section of my pancreas a few months on.
I was scared, I was shocked, in disbelief. Pancreatic cancer has often been a death sentence, and several well-known public figures have recently passed away from this cancer, such as congressman John Lewis, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Alex Trebek. Yet I didn’t experience signs nor symptoms, none of the typical tell-tale pain, jaundice or sudden weight loss. This was because my cancer was caught in early stages.
I made a conscious decision to keep my cancer and chemotherapy treatments private. I deduced that disclosing my diagnosis could influence the public, reporters, and organizations I belong too, to judge me, my capabilities and my availability, in an undesirable way. So, I pushed forward with politics and cancer treatment with sealed lips. I began chemotherapy the first week of February, 2020, at the UCSF (University of California San Francisco) Mission Bay campus.
Enter Coronavirus. City lockdowns and closed government offices started in March, shifting public attention from politics and activism not long after the March primary elections. I had undergone several cycles of chemotherapy by this time and experienced the rollercoaster of intense and bizarre side effects which I won’t go in to now- but one thing was quite clear: my mind. It was a godsend that I could think clearly and concisely, allowing me to continue writing columns and Op-Eds, prepare written arguments opposing city ballot measures, participate in numerous community meetings on zoom, and strategize on endorsements of candidates. I also appeared on TV, radio and podcast interviews, successfully and without the participants aware what I was suffering through.
I had surgery in June, successfully recuperated and then resumed chemotherapy, with excellent pancreatic cancer antigen test results, monitoring a marker called CA 19-9. My final chemo session was September 23, and the chest port, an embedded receptacle to allow chemo drugs to easily connect to my veins, was removed just a few weeks ago. Symbolically and psychologically, this concluded my pancreatic cancer treatments, though I still suffer from peripheral neuropathy. I am a survivor.
I am now going public with my story. This month, November, is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a time to raise the bar on better cancer treatment outcomes by raising awareness about the risks and symptoms of the disease, as earlier detection saves lives. Such early detection indeed saved mine, and I am forever grateful to the doctors which spotted the tumor on my pancreas so early on.
There are several resources and research hospitals which provide Pancreatic cancer information, diagnosis and treatment. The University of California, San Francisco is a state of the art, word-class facility - and where I had my medical team and oncology nurses and specialists provide my chemotherapy protocol and surgery. Another extremely valuable organization is Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, which provides information on symptoms, and provides help for those diagnosed with this aggressive cancer. If you wish to learn more about PanCAN, visit www.pancan.org/greenberg for information, guidance and resources.
Every November 19th is World Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day, which I am participating in as one of the newest survivors. I bring my story to you in hopes that I can help even just one person who may be suffering. You may visit www.richiegreenberg.org/survivor for more on my story.
I am a survivor. Pancreatic cancer, chemotherapy and surgery was tough, but I am tougher.
Please be safe and be thankful for everything and everyone we have in life.