My grandfather has pancreatic cancer

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My grandfather has pancreatic cancer- a photo of a young adult grandaughter and grandfather together. She has her left arm around his shoulders and is giving him a kiss on the cheek.

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My grandfather has pancreatic cancer

My grandfather has pancreatic cancer- a story about how his cancer treatment during my pregnancy deepened our love.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I learned that my grandfather has pancreatic cancer.  Although he was 80 years old, he took his cancer diagnosis in his stride. He agreed to the treatment even though I could sense he wasn’t excited about the whole idea. I think he did it more for his daughters, and to see his first great-grandchild — which he did.

Because my husband and I had just moved to Columbus from Rhode Island, I had no other friends or family here, which meant I ended up spending the early days of my pregnancy with my grandfather. I had never lived in the same city as my grandfather.

At one point during a chemotherapy treatment session for his pancreatic cancer, I half-jokingly asked the nurse if I could get an IV and lie in a bed next to him. The nurse just shook her head, apparently not too convinced of the gravity of my nauseous situation. I bet both of us never imagined that he would be holding up my hair a couple of times as I puked.

But it gets worse. As it turned out, my grandfather and I shared a lot of symptoms during those dark days in Columbus. It also cemented a bond between us that had always existed. Although I had so many warm memories of him from childhood Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays I didn’t really know him beyond that connection developed as a granddaughter through familial love. The next few months would deepen that love.

1. Always nauseous

Just as my grandfather started chemotherapy, I started feeling morning sickness. Everything made me throw up, so when I went to see him in the hospital, we laughed about how much alike we were feeling. He was even surprised I drove over since I carried a little puke bag (don’t worry it was clean) with me wherever I went. I was that sick!

On a more serious note. My morning sickness was not pancreatic cancer and it definitely would not kill me. My grandfather’s pancreatic cancer was very serious. Although his cancer was diagnosed relatively early, which statistically meant he might go into remission, it was also possible it would kill him. Being able to laugh together despite both of us feeling nauseous strengthened our connection.

2. Always tired

When your grandfather has pancreatic cancer, and you are one of his primary caregivers, and you’re in the first trimester both of you are exhausted all the time. When he was in the hospital, I would arrive at the start of visiting hours and immediately plop down on the chair next to his bed. My face and armpits sweating just like I had been running a marathon. My grandfather was usually too exhausted to do more than smile and wave his hand, something we quickly learned to do in unison like a code, albeit a sick person’s code.

3. No awkward conversations here

When you’re sick to your stomach all the time and just being conscious is agony, the last thing you want is to have a conversation. My grandfather felt the same. He didn’t tell me one single story from his military days during his pancreatic cancer treatment- although I would have happily listened. He also didn’t want to have any awkward conversations about his cancer treatment.

Our conversations quickly shrank down and consisted of hello, goodbye, what do you want to watch, I’m going to the bathroom, and the occasional moans and groans only the nauseous can truly understand. When you love someone it is okay to be silent in each other’s company. You can draw strength and connection with touch and just being around them.

4. Misery loves company

There is an old saying that misery loves company. And when it comes to cancer and morning sickness it rings true. While there are some people who love being pregnant (I’m not one of them), no one likes cancer treatment. The side effects of chemotherapy and other treatments are often what make people feel so uncomfortable about cancer. In other words, cancer treatment makes people sick, even if it’s just the storm before the calm. Many people who undergo cancer treatment feel miserable and, because of that, they need someone to tough it out with them.

Article by
Jessica White

Jessica White describes herself as a "very private person," which is why she uses a pseudonym. Jessica lives in Delray Beach, Florida


"I didn't really know him beyond that connection developed as a granddaughter through familial love. The next few months would deepen that love."