The Cancer Center’s Story Project is an effort to capture stories from our community of patients, friends, family, clinicians, and staff who have been affected by cancer in some way. This is Geri's Story.
- Geri was diagnosed with Cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer), a rare form of cancer, and has made it her mission to bring awareness to her cancer and be a beacon of strength to all people going through cancer treatment.
- "My cancer is the green ribbon in cancer so I have green hair to raise awareness. I am a green warrior."
What have you learned about yourself since being diagnosed?
"I’ve learned that I am stronger than I thought I was. And that the little things don’t matter anymore. It kind of puts a whole new perspective on living and what you want to get done, not knowing how much time you have. I have learned how wonderful MGH is and all of the doctors and everybody who has been involved with me. The social workers, just everyone has been fantastic. I guess it puts things in a perspective. What are the important things? Spending time with family and grandchildren. Keeping the house totally clean all the time doesn’t matter as much anymore."
"I was diagnosed in 2013 with Cholangiocarcinoma cancer. It was stage 2. I met with Dr. Tanabe and Dr. Clark, and they thought surgery was possible. I guess 80% can’t have surgery and 20% can. I first had to have an embolization. They cut off the blood supply to the area of the tumor and a month later they did a resection. I was in the hospital I think 12 days, and in recovery for 8 weeks and then I went on to chemo."
"There have been all kinds of little things all the way. Surgery came with some complications but I made it through. And then I started chemo and at the time I thought that I would still be able to work from home. But I tried, and there had been such a time lapse between the chemo affecting me that I couldn’t remember how to do things on the computer. I used to set up travel for people, and do their expenses and stuff, so I told them that I couldn’t do it. I ended up retiring. In February they found a small tumor. Even though Dr. Tanabe said he thought he had gotten it all, you can’t see it until it gets bigger. I had five really strong rounds of radiation and then they put me back on chemo again. At that point I had had 56 or 57 rounds. The world record is 59 rounds and I was nearing it. At the end of the year I had a bone infection. In February 2016 I fell and I broke my hip. I collapsed in the middle of the night in our house with a 102 temperature. I had just planned a trip to Disney for the following month. I had the surgery and was in the hospital for three weeks and then was transferred to rehab. Then I came back to Mass General for my chemo. And later we went to Disney World. While I was down there I was really, really tired, and when I got back I was getting so tired that I would make breakfast and sit on the couch and wake up three hours later. May of 2016 was my last chemo. I ended up being hospitalized in the summer and they found that the TSH level was approximately twelve times the normal range, so that’s why I was always falling asleep. But I’m just glad they found it."
From 2013 until January, every time one of these things happened, what were you thinking?
"I think that it would bother me, but then I’d say I just have to get through this. When I was diagnosed, my youngest granddaughter was three. I kept saying to my daughter that I have to live long enough for my youngest to remember me, and she’s not going to remember me until she’s at least 6 or 7. I think that I always had that in the back of my mind. And what are my daughters going to do without me? My youngest one is still home. I’m the only grandparent left. So if I die they aren’t even going to have any grandparents. So I think that is what gets me through. I just keep asking God for more time and I keep saying I can do this, I don’t care, keep throwing things at me. And He is. I just want to live. So I keep jumping over the puddles."
What has been your greatest struggle?
"I was always a pessimist. So I think that my biggest struggle is keeping the bad demons in the back of my head and being positive because I think that if I’m positive, I will win. So I think my biggest struggle is not to get depressed about what’s going on."
What has been your best experience so far?
"My best experience is the people who are working with me. I never would have gotten to meet such a great bunch of people if I hadn’t been sick. Not that that is a reason to get sick. But I can’t think of a single person who has worked with me at MGH that I can say anything bad about. It’s like they are family."
"When I was working full-time in Boston and my mother's caregiver, I got a call from Tufts' ICU about my brother. He had had a massive stroke. And I remember seeing him and thinking he wasn’t going to make it. Not only did he make it but he was so strong. He had such a great attitude. And this was the year before I was diagnosed. And I remember thinking since he had such a strong attitude I had to too. All that running around and working and then all of a sudden everything stops and you realize you have to take care of yourself. I was always taking care of people. My dad even before my mom. It’s hard being the caregiver and then becoming the patient. It’s hard to let other people take care of you. It’s hard being dependent on people. I try to do as much as I can. You’ve got to have a sense of humor to get through it too."
For someone who is being newly diagnosed with cancer, do you have any advice?
"They’re going to be okay and they are in good hands. I had a lot of success here and I am sure they will too. And any time they wanted to call me they could. I want people to realize they are not alone. It is usually a cancer that gets diagnosed at later stages. I want to raise awareness because when I tell people I have Cholangiocarcinoma, bile duct cancer, they say, 'What is that? Where is that?' My cancer is the green ribbon in cancer so I have green hair to raise awareness. I am a green warrior."
My cancer is the green ribbon in cancer so I have green hair to raise awareness. I am a green warrior.
This interview was conducted on April 5, 2017 and has been edited for clarity.