INDIANAPOLIS — Lisa Knox Nervig is my little sister. We grew up together, eight years apart.
I went off to pursue a career in journalism. She went to Hollywood and started working on television shows. She switched careers a few years ago and today she is a registered nurse.
Just after Christmas this past year, she noticed some digestive issues weren’t going away and then she developed a pain in her back and arm. She decided to check it out at an emergency room in Naperville, Illinois where she lives.
After some bloodwork was done, her doctor ordered more tests.
“So she went ahead and scheduled a CT to see if there is something there. So they did and they saw something,” Lisa said. “They came back in and said, ‘We think you have pancreatic cancer and boy, that just threw me.’”
Lisa was diagnosed with Stage 1 adenocarcinoma.
According to the American Cancer Society, 64,050 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year.
It accounts for about 3 percent of all cancers in the U.S.
And according to the Hirshcberg Foundation, pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all the major cancers. The five-year relative survival rate is 12 percent.
The stats have not been lost on Lisa.
“You become very aware that your time is limited. Even now, I know that tomorrow is not promised to anyone,” she said.
So last January, Lisa had a port installed in her upper chest. She underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy.
This past June she had surgery and had part of her pancreas removed, along with her whole spleen and several lymph nodes.
She’s known to proudly show off her foot-long scar. She continued with three more rounds of chemo and last August rang the bell — she was finished with chemotherapy.
Along the way, she learned some important lessons that she says helped her.
“Take all the support you can get. Take all the positive energy you can get and stay positive because it’s your time. Go for a walk, be mindful and meditate on the positive,” she said.
Lisa also found other pancreatic cancer survivors. One of them, Katie Swink, is 17 years cancer free. They stay in close contact.
“Some people are lucky and I think your sister was one of them, Debby,” says Jenny Bivans, chair of the Indianapolis Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
Stage 1 patients can have the chemotherapy and the Whipple procedure, chemo again,” said Bivans.
Lisa and I are part of Pancan now. They are a group of volunteers raising money for a cure. But they also offer patient support, information on clinical trials and awareness of the symptoms.
“The symptoms are vague,” says Bivans. “Don’t ignore vague symptoms. If you have a backache that is unexplainable or if you have a sudden change in your digestive system or some people actually turn yellow because they get jaundiced. Actually, they are lucky because people notice.”
Today, Lisa is cancer-free and will be closely monitored for the next few years. In the meantime, she wanted to say thank you to the people of Indianapolis who sent her prayers.
“Some of your fans sent me, bless their hearts, I mean, it means a lot and I want them all to know that I thank them from the bottom of my heart because when you are scared and you go down that rabbit hole, those prayers make a huge difference,” said Lisa.
Lisa is back to work these days and both of us hope you will continue to keep her in your prayers.