Mary K and her husband James. They celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in June, 2019
James and Mary K. Pictured with their grandchildren. (L) Preston and Kyla. (R) Kena and Foerster

Written By Debra Gelbart
May 12, 2019

Mary K. Rabe
Diagnosed: September 2009
Stable Disease: Currently May, 2019

Pancreatic Cancer Warrior Celebrating More Than Nine Years of Survival

By the summer of 2019, Mary K. Rabe will be officially retired. She will have spent 42 years in the Cuero, Texas school district as a librarian. And she’s survived pancreatic cancer for almost a decade.

Mark K RabeIn September 2009, Mary K. began noticing the whites of her eyes were turning brown, and her urine was turning orange. Her school district was offering employees comprehensive screening tests, and she was told her results showed her gallbladder was “sluggish.” Shortly after an endoscopy biopsy, Mary K. suffered an attack of pancreatitis that landed her in the hospital for 10 days. There she was diagnosed with stage 2 pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma.

She was treated with chemotherapy for five months and then underwent Whipple Surgery in April of 2010. One lymph node showed signs of cancer, so to be safe, doctors surgically removed almost three dozen other lymph nodes. It was a 10-hour surgery and required a 14-day hospital stay at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, about 130 miles from her home in Cuero.

A Tough Recovery, But An Even Tougher Attitude

After that, she battled multiple infections. “That was such a discouraging time,” she said. “I thought I’m the only person in the world who has these recurring infections. But then I realized after I saw so many sick people in the hospital, I really shouldn’t complain because I was still getting the chance to live my life.”

She was placed back on chemo from September 2010 to January 2011. For the next four years, she had to undergo a CT scan every three months, and her scans were always normal. After the four years, she was able to space the scans six months apart for a time and finally, she had to have a scan only once a year. In December of 2017, because by then she was an eight-year pancreatic cancer survivor, MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston told her they were releasing her as a continuing patient.

Life is Different, But Good

Life is certainly different for Mary K. than it was prior to 2009, but she is so grateful to remain in remission. “I became diabetic, but my endocrinologist tries to keep it regulated so I don’t have to take insulin,” she said. “I can’t eat like I used to, but now, instead of battling cancer, I only have to contend with the results of the surgery I had in 2010—surgery that absolutely saved my life. I’m very much looking forward to retirement and being able to spend time with my four grandchildren.”

Mary K. is well aware of what a gift life is. “I try to make every day count and make an impact on something in my life and the life of my family and other survivors,” she said. “I was so thrilled to discover the opportunity to read other people’s stories on the Seena Magowitz Website Warrior Page and its Facebook Page. It helps so much. I hope my story changes someone else’s life. That’s part of making every day count.”

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