What does the pancreas do?

Pancreas Pop Quiz

  1. It’s a gland that secretes enzymes into the small intestine to help with digestion. It helps digest fats, proteins, carbohydrates, and cholesterol.
  2. It’s a gland that secretes the hormone insulin into the bloodstream to help regulate the body’s glucose or sugar level. Problems here can lead to diabetes.
  3. It’s a gland located behind the stomach and stretches across the back of the abdomen. Tucked in around many other organs, it’s very difficult to access.
  4. I have no idea.

And the answer is….. All of the above.  (This was a trick quiz question!) (I used to love these when I taught – – evil teacher moment of fun)

Who knew what the pancreas did?  I might have guessed #2, connecting it with insulin; #4. I have no idea, would have been the more honest answer.

Realistically, most people don’t care what the pancreas does. It’s on a need to know basis. To be fair, I don’t really know what the gallbladder does. I know it can produce terrible stones similar to the hellish kidney stones my brother has experienced.  My sister had her gallbladder removed – so is it all that important? I had my appendix removed; does this somehow relate?

Maybe I should have taken biology. I never knew I would need to know information about organ body parts.  Will there also be math on this life quiz?

When I tell people I have pancreatic cancer, I realize it’s usually wise to tell them what the pancreas does.

The pancreas is actually two organs merged into one. Half takes care of providing insulin and regulates sugar in our body. The other half provides important digestive enzymes.  You can get a tumor growing on either side, thus causing two slightly different reactions. However, a tumor on either side can also impact the other side. It’s quite the magical mystery body organ!

Potential (and quiet) warning signs for pancreatic cancer

One of them is elevated blood sugar without accompanying weight gain. I had a minor increase in my glucose level right before I was diagnosed.

However, my tumor is growing on the digestive side. Now, I take creon, a pill version of the enzyme lipase which helps digest fats. Apparently my pancreas isn’t up to the job of digesting fats anymore.  It’s a little weird because there are no real guidelines to the amount of creon you are supposed to take. But, if you don’t take enough with each meal, you are gifted the consequence of The Troubles. (That’s my polite way of referring to diarrhea. My son got rather tired of hearing the word diarrhea, so I now use, The Troubles. I like that better too.)

Frequently I asked Alexa how much fat is in the food I am about to eat. She seems to have a remarkable knowledge of the amount of fat in food. I also have developed a freaky internal fat-activated warning mechanism. I can look at a delicious slice of pecan pie and wonder, would I tempt The Troubles if I eat that? To eat or not to eat?  A quiz. A voice inside frequently jumps into action: DON’T EVEN CONSIDER EATING THAT!

Sometimes I listen because failing this quiz has such unpleasant consequences. Usually I load up on creon and enjoy at least one bite!

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This is my blog about living my life with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer—End stage. I joked about writing this imaginary blog when I spent a year on a treatment that allowed me only 10 days to feel well enough to live a fairly normal life. (Actually normal doesn’t even really exist for me anymore!) To earn those good days, I spent the previous 10 days living in post-chemo treatment physical hell – that also became normal in a perverse way. I’m also writing to honor those who are diagnosed with Stage Four Pancreatic Cancer. You might live longer than you expect and I want you to have someone who tells you what that’s like. There aren’t many role models for people with this because, well, they’re usually gone. So, this is for you. Maybe your journey will be similar to mine. Actually, it will probably be very different because “everyone is different.” Even still, maybe this will still be a bit of a guide.

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