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Cissy Hass

Pancreatic cancer - Stage IV

This testimonial includes a description of this patient’s actual medical results. Those results may not be typical or expected for the particular disease type described in this testimonial. You should not expect to experience these results.

View CTCA treatment results for pancreatic cancer

My story

A shocking diagnosis

When I was 52 years old, my family was on vacation in Florida and I began experiencing a terrible pain in my abdomen that extended into my back. I went to the emergency room at a hospital near where we were vacationing. The doctor did an ultrasound and told me that he thought there was a tumor on my pancreas. He also said there were spots on my liver. My pancreatic enzyme levels were highly abnormal, which the doctors suspected might be due to a gallstone. So I was admitted to the hospital to be assessed for both cancer and gallstones.

I remained at that hospital for three days while the enzyme levels stabilized. A new doctor wanted to do a CT scan before I was discharged. After seeing the results from that scan, he told me there was no way that I had cancer. He thought I had gallstones and recommended that I schedule surgery as soon as I got home to have my gallbladder removed.

Back in our hometown of Newnan, Georgia, I had the recommended surgery. The doctor told me that he didn’t see any stones, but did see “sludge,” as he called it, and so removed the gallbladder.  During a postoperative check-up, my pancreatic enzyme levels were still extremely high. The surgeon did a CT scan and found a tumor on my pancreas.

He referred me to a gastrointestinal specialist at an academic hospital in Atlanta. I had a biopsy, which led to the diagnosis: stage IV pancreatic cancer. The tumor type was adenocarcinoma. I could not tell you what I was even thinking when I heard the GI specialist say these words to me. I was in complete and utter shock.

At the same hospital, I saw an oncologist who suggested that I enroll in a clinical trial. The experimental treatment included aggressive chemotherapy followed by aggressive radiation followed by surgery. I decided to enroll. I was willing to do anything.

From sickness to health

I began the clinical trial but quickly became extremely sick from the medication. I could not leave my bed. I had a nurse at my home to give me fluids because I needed potassium and magnesium. Long story short—I could not continue the treatment.

The Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) location in Atlanta, right near our home, was in the final stages of being built at the time that I was home bound. The chaplain there is a friend of ours so my husband called him to ask about bringing me there. He put us in touch with someone who could help, and very quickly I had an appointment.

I was brought into CTCA in a wheelchair. I could not hold my head up. I was admitted to the hospital that day and received potassium and magnesium. It turned out that I had a kidney infection, so I was given antibiotics. Also, I had two blood transfusions. I remained at CTCA for about six days, and my health began improving. Finally I was getting the care I needed. The GI doctor there recommended a special diet and the diarrhea, which had been the severest side effect from the earlier chemotherapy, stopped in two days.

I had a biopsy, which showed cancer in my lymph nodes. Dr. Brion Randolph suggested a treatment plan that would involve more tolerable chemotherapy. Dr. Christian Hyde recommended radiation treatment. So once I was ready, I had chemotherapy plus radiation for five weeks, and then another six weeks of radiation alone. This time, the treatment did not make me sick. I was tired, but it was mild compared to what I’d experienced earlier.

The hope that changed my life

The model of care practiced at CTCA, which puts the patient at the center, made a big difference. My questions were never left unanswered. One of my sons, who is in the Navy, came home while I was hospitalized at CTCA. He came to see me and lay down next to me in the bed. When the nurse came in, he started to rise and she told him, “No, you just stay right there with your mom.” She knew that this moment with him would be healing for me, and she could come back later to do what she needed to do.

My care team, and others I met at CTCA, were so supportive. I came there with stage IV pancreatic cancer, and they had hope for me. They never gave up. Dr. Randolph was incredibly supportive. Everything about my care revolved around hope. The absolute hope at CTCA changed my life. 

Enjoying each day

It sounds cliché when someone says, “enjoy each day like it’s your last.” But now I know the true meaning of this. When you are faced with the reality that you might not survive, you learn what it means to truly enjoy each moment.

Coping with a cancer diagnosis can be a battle, and it’s a battle that has to be faced head on. If you don’t fight, you can’t win. The faces of my children kept me motivated throughout my treatment. I want to see graduations and weddings and grandchildren. All of those future events are in the faces of my children that I pictured when I was at my worst. With them to love, and with CTCA and my caregivers—my husband, my mother, and my children—to help me through, I made it to the other side.

Bette Ann Epps’ Story

Caring for my child

Being a caregiver to Cissy has meant being there every day to help in whatever way I can. Often, that help has been in the form of being with her children while she receives treatment. I am also there simply to be a calming presence, as best I can. I never get emotional around my daughter, because I know that will only make things harder for her and her family.

There is no greater feeling than getting your child to a place where you know they are in good hands and where there is hope. At CTCA, Cissy had everything she needed, from great medical care to psychological support to a chaplain available to talk to if she wanted.

Everywhere I turned at CTCA, there was help available. The staff knew me by name. The doctor hugged me. They were always there. I have never to another hospital where they treat caregivers like they do at CTCA.

I’m so proud of my daughter. She has been through so much, and she speaks so well now in public about her experience. The public speaking she does is entirely new. But I guess when you are speaking from the heart, as she is, it comes more easily.