Lindsay Gavin, a 40-year-old mother of two, was in the emergency hospital on Christmas Eve 2022, unsure of what to make of her heart palpitations. She believed she had overworked herself at Orangetheory the day before. Then, while waiting at the hospital, she started feeling stomach cramps and a temperature, she told Insider.
She was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer that had spread to her liver after imaging. It was a tough diagnosis: just around 5-10% of pancreatic cancer patients survive more than five years after diagnosis, and those with stage 4 pancreatic cancer had a 1% five-year survival rate.
Gavin is younger than the majority of pancreatic cancer patients, who are diagnosed after the age of 55. She told Insider that she was in “total shock” when she heard of her illness and instantly thought about her family. “Obviously, all I think about was my two little girls, and am I gonna be around for them?” she said. “But they’re also my glimmer of hope, so I had to stay strong and do what I had to do.”
Her children, aged seven and four, she claims, are the reason she quickly requested an antidepressant. Then, with the support of her vast network, she started searching for treatment for one of the deadliest cancers, which kills over 50,000 people in the United States each year.
The fact that most patients do not develop symptoms until stage four, the most advanced stage of the disease, makes pancreatic cancer so difficult to detect. Gavin, who previously worked as a nurse, experienced a work-related shoulder injury a month before her diagnosis.
She had been taking Tylenol and Motrin “around the clock,” which she felt was masking her fevers. She had tumors in her pancreas and liver, acute diverticulitis, and an abscess in her colon that was septic when she was diagnosed with cancer.
Doctors advised Gavin that chemotherapy was the best treatment choice, but her family was eager to seek any and all treatments, including cutting-edge biotechnology. Gavin requested the help of her sister and retired mother, who quickly dove into Pancreatic Cancer Action Network resources.
She’s received nine rounds of chemotherapy at Northwestern Memorial Hospital so far, which she described as “very successful” after eight weeks and decreased all of her tumors at first, however, some have regrown.
Her family and friends keep her informed on new advances in pancreatic cancer therapy, such as the recent development of an mRNA vaccine that stopped the disease from returning in 50% of patients who received the shot.
Gavin can’t bring herself to study too much about pancreatic cancer, so her mother and sister’s research comes in helpful.