Patient Testimonial: Standing Up to Pancreatic Cancer

As part of Columbia’s Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month Symposium, Steven Tinston generously shared his experiences via zoom. The following is a lightly edited-for-text transcription of his account.


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Hi, my name is Steven Tinston. I’m in Blauvelt, New York, and I am a 68 year old cancer survivor.

DIAGNOSIS

I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in May of 2020, after a lot of discomfort and pain and weight loss and digestive problems.

When I was diagnosed, the GI doctor said that he could give me the number of some good doctors in the city that could possibly work on me. I said, I don’t want a lot of numbers. I just want the number for the best. And he came back to me and he said, “Okay, the best? Here's his number. His name is Dr. Chabot, at Columbia Presbyterian. Call him now.”

I called Dr. John A. Chabot. Two days later, I was at Columbia, in his office and we spoke. He outlined a plan of treatment for the cancer, and said we could start as soon as they had some operating rooms open.

At the time, they were open only three hours a day, as a result of the burgeoning pandemic. Within two weeks. He had an O.R. and we went in there.

TREATMENT

My journey to recovery started on D-Day, 2020. It was a Saturday, early in the morning, long pre-dawn. They took me in, and I had a Whipple surgery.

After about a month, we started the next phase. I met my oncologist, Dr. Susan Bates, and she outlined what her program of chemo was going to be for me.

It was decided that I was strong enough to handle the chemo. So we got on with that, and for six months—every two weeks on Thursday— I was at Columbia, 14th floor, and received chemo. I can't say anything good about it, other than the fact that it saved my life.

I had my last chemotherapy. They offered to put it off by a couple of weeks, because they said I hadn't missed a single one, and I hadn't. They hadn't cut back on any of the other drugs or anything like that. So they wanted to give me a break from it toward the end. I said absolutely not. I don't need a break. I need to beat cancer.

On Christmas Eve, of 2020 I had my last chemotherapy. I rang the bell on the 14th floor, and went back home to try and get ready for the second surgery.

On January 22nd, I came back to Columbia. They did a total pancreatectomy and a splenectomy. Those left me a brittle diabetic.

I recovered from the second surgery. I had another meeting with Dr.Chabot. And I was starting to put on a little weight, already, a couple of pounds.

And I asked him, point blank, I said, “Now that I've gone through all these changes, what's my life going to look like? What can I do with my life?” He looked me straight in the eye and he said, “You can do whatever you want with your life, it’s all yours.”

RECOVERY

I retired and immediately flew out to Arizona so I could do some hiking with my son. And we were hiking, and we were climbing, and we were exploring all over Southern Arizona for three weeks, and it was just fantastic.

For support, I've leaned more on my wife than on anyone else. She's been there every step of the way. The whole support was vital. I mean spiritually, medically. My wife is a nurse, and she retired in the middle of the pandemic to care for me.

The Columbia team that I've been working with, to the last one, have just been absolutely the most competent and compassionate and talented people I've ever met.

The first time I came in, the first person I met was Chanel and I dealt with her quite a bit for scheduling and any questions I had. She would make sure that she got me answers for them, and she's just an absolutely amazing human being. As is Justine, Dr. Bates’s assistant.

Eileen's the nurse. Eileen has been a godsend. Sabrina – God knows I kept Sabrina very busy with questions about anything that has to do with nutrition. The nurses in the chemo center and in the infusion center: absolute Top Notch professionals. Very compassionate.

LESSONS & ADVICE

For anyone starting this journey, anybody who's been recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, it's not a death sentence. I thought it was. I thought it was all pretty much over. but I was not going to go out without a fight. And that's what that's what it takes. You gotta fight.

With faith, with the support you can get here. And with the treatment, you can get here. You just really have to dig deep. You’ve got to dig all the way, as deep as you can. Get into your personal strength, physical strength, and faith.

And just go in there ready to fight. Because you're gonna get a lot of help if you come here. You’re gonna get all the help in the world.

FURTHER READING


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