Life Lessons From a Pancreatic Cancer Survivor

Pictured: Michael Calandra surrounded by his loving family.

More than two years ago, when Dr. Bain told me I had pancreatic cancer, my first thought was that nothing can take my 81 years away from me. I’ve had a long, happy life and know what it’s like to overcome hardships and learn important lessons.

I grew up in France during the German occupation and learned to view suffering as a teachable experience. I will never forget one day when my mother was crying because she didn’t have certain things to put on our table. My father comforted her and said, “What do you expect out of life? It is a never-ending battle. We just have to do the best we can for the people we love.”

Those words have stuck with me my whole life. I never said, “Why me?” when I got my cancer diagnosis. I just figured that’s the way life is – everyone on this earth is going through something. I am not the exception. Many years ago when my wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and years later when she passed away, I just tried to focus on the amazing life we had together and the love for our four children.

My family is full of lessons and mantras that we share with each other. I always tell my grandkids, “Be grateful and appreciate what you have.” One of my brothers has a good one: “Worrying ahead of time is like paying interest on money you never borrowed.” Another saying I stand by is, “When the going starts to get tough for everyone else, it's just right for us.” Don't get me wrong; there are times when I get down in the dumps. But I just try to keep a positive attitude as much as I can.

As a cancer survivor, I am grateful for my successful Whipple Procedure and the care and love from my family. My eternal gratitude goes to Dr. Hochwald, not only for his extraordinary skill, but also for his gentle care. Everyone involved in my treatment, from the nurses to support staff, was so fantastic. My daughter, a nurse, was very involved in my care. I encountered some complications and extra problems in addition to the cancer, and her persistence and advocacy got me through it. She also did a lot of research and worked with dietitians at Roswell Park to find supplements that would be right for me. I now have to really watch what I eat as well.

Let me tell you, it all worked – I am about to be 84. But I don’t feel 84. I can move; I can dance. To be alive is a blessing. When I wake up in the morning and open my eyes – that’s everything.

Life is beautiful and I am a happy person. I have done the best I can. I have no regrets — none.

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Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.