‘I’m alive’: Ogden Regional employee grateful for early pancreatic cancer diagnosis
LAYTON — If it were up to statistics, Carla Miner probably shouldn’t be alive today.
But because of early detection, the 52-year-old has survived the odds of pancreatic cancer.
The disease is one of the few cancers that typically advances to an incurable stage by the time it’s found.
“When you hear pancreatic cancer, you automatically think it’s a death sentence,” Miner said. “But fortunately everything fell into place and I was able to get a diagnosis in the early stages. I had a doctor who listened to me and I thank God we have the Huntsman Center practically right here in our backyard.”
Miner, who works as a catheterization lab and interventional radiology supply coordinator at Ogden Regional Medical Center, had undergone a hysterectomy when doctors reported seeing a spot on her liver.
“I never thought about looking into it and nobody said anything more about it,” she said. “But then something inside me started to say I need to just get it checked out to make sure nothing is going on.”
She visited her primary care physician, who ordered a CT scan. Two days later, she got a phone call.
“They said they found a mass on my pancreas and I needed it biopsied as soon as possible,” she said. “It came back as cancer, but luckily it was in the early stages.”
Miner had an operation called the Whipple procedure, which involves removing the head of the pancreas, the first portion of the small bowl, gallbladder and part of her bile duct. She spent eight days at Huntsman recovering.
“Then I came home and I told my husband to go to work. About 30 minutes after he left, I went to the restroom and pure blood came out. I called the surgeon to see if it was normal and he said no and to get back down there immediately,” she said. “So I had another operation and spent another eight days in the (intensive care unit).”
According to Medpage Today, progress is being made to predict earlier detection of the disease. Genetic testing and biomarkers in the blood can help identify a person’s risk. In addition, a small Phase 1 clinical trial suggested an mRNA vaccine has shown promise that may prevent the cancer from returning.
Pancreatic cancer rarely causes symptoms in the early stages, but when they do appear, they can include abdominal pain that radiates to the back, yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, weight loss, loss of appetite, itching, dark-colored urine and light-colored stools, fatigue, weakness and a new diagnosis of diabetes.
“Looking back, I did have some stomach pain that spread to my back, but I didn’t think much about it because I also have acid reflux,” Miner said. “I just think it’s incredibly important to pay attention to what your body is telling you and to find a doctor who will listen.”
While Miner is now cancer free, she said the illness has caused some limitations in her life as well as physical and emotional pain.
“I would like to talk to other people who have gone through the same thing as I have because it’s been a struggle and it would be nice to talk to other people and offer them my advice and also receive advice from them,” she said. “Physically, I have to really push myself and if I get any weird symptom, I really start to worry. So basically, because I was diagnosed in the month of December, that’s a very high-anxiety month for me and it’s also the month where they retest me.”
Miner also said she has gone through a sort of mourning period.
“I mourn the person I used to be,” she said. “It’s really changed my life in many ways. But at the same time, I’m alive. So far, I’ve beat the odds and I will forever be grateful for that.”