If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with cancer, you know there aren’t words to describe going through it. But there are plenty of words to describe the path to beating it. This story follows one young woman’s journey to beating a rare, deadly cancer and how her caregivers became her partners in care when that support mattered most.
Makayla Hopkins is her own kind of 18-year-old woman. She’s a recent high school graduate and has been interning in government and politics for a couple of years. She loves music, but not the kind you’d expect — she has a special soft spot for 1960s rocker Jimi Hendrix.
Most noticeable, however, is her excitement and enthusiasm for the future, even though her future was once at risk.
The bad news
Just months before graduation, Makayla had a weird stomach pain. She’d already seen her doctor for it several times, but this time was different; it hurt bad enough that her mom took her to the ER. “The ER was sort of our last resort,” she said. “We thought they’d figure it out.”
Instead, they went back to her doctor, who this time decided to do a CAT scan. A few hours later, he came with the bad news — she had pancreatic cancer.
“I remember that I didn’t really know how to feel,” Makayla said. “People always ask if I was sad or afraid when I found out, but it happened just so fast.”
Pancreatic cancer brings many difficulties. The pancreas is located behind and slightly below the stomach, where it creates enzymes to aid digestion and balance blood sugar levels. It’s hard to reach and extremely difficult to live without. It’s also one of the fastest-growing cancers, which makes it one of the deadliest.
“The first thing I did when I got home was Google everything, and all I saw were these scary statistics,” Makayla remembered.
The information she found was based around people who had certain risk factors that increase the risk of getting pancreatic cancer, none of which she had. “There weren’t statistics for pancreatic cancer survivors who were my age,” she said. “It was like flying blind.”
Luckily, she had an inside source — her mother had also battled cancer. To learn more and devise a plan, they visited her mother’s cancer doctor.
Surgery or chemo?
Pancreatic cancer is treatable through surgery, chemo, radiation treatment, or some combination of the three. After talking with her mother’s oncologist, they felt the best option for battling her fast-spreading cancer was surgery.
“One of my biggest fears of having cancer was losing my hair and my eyebrows,” Makayla said. “With the surgery, that didn’t have to happen.”
The doctor further recommended that they speak with Nathan Richards, MD, a general surgeon at LDS Hospital, about the Robotic Whipple procedure.
The surgery is one of the safest methods of removing cancerous tumors from the pancreas, even though it’s considered to be the abdominal equivalent to open-heart surgery.
“My mom’s doctor said, ‘If you want robotics, go with him,’ so I wasn’t even worried about how complicated the surgery would be,” Makayla said.
The end was her beginning
When Makayla first met Dr. Richards, the impact of her cancer finally hit. “I was just crying and he came over and let me know that it was okay,” she said. “He told me I needed to prepare for what was coming, but I also needed to know I had my whole life ahead of me after the surgery.”
“He made me feel a lot better about my future.”
Makayla’s experience with cancer, gratefully, lasted only two months. Despite spending only a fraction of that time at LDS Hospital, her experience there was unforgettable.
“Going to LDS Hospital was a great choice,” she said. “The care we got was amazing, and the people who were there made a difficult experience a lot easier.”