Randy says the first sign that something was wrong with him was a "funny" feeling. "I had sort of bloating in my abdomen, and I would have called it cramping, but it wasn't quite the same," he says. Randy also became jaundiced without feeling pain—a major indication to doctors that pancreatic cancer could be the culprit.
After an ultrasound, Randy's doctor told him the news—there was a mass on his pancreas. "If you're going to pick off a list, this is not the cancer you would pick," Randy says. "I mean, it's pretty much the last one you would want to get. It's pretty much the most fatal. I had no idea how bad pancreatic cancer would be."
Dr. Oz says pancreatic cancer is so serious because by the time it is detected, it is often too late to treat. "The pancreas is nestled away in the back of the belly, and it doesn't have any real symptoms until it's already spread," he says. "So unlike a lot of the cancers that we really push hard for folks to get screened on—colon cancer, breast cancer, skin cancer—it's very hard to find pancreatic cancer early, and by the time we find it, it's caused that painless jaundice because it's blocked off the liver."
Randy says he underwent surgery to remove the tumor, as well as a third of his stomach, a third of his pancreas, his gallbladder and a section of his small intestine. His weight dropped from 183 pounds down to 138, making him so thin that he had to remove his wedding ring. "I just got so skinny it would fall off. And that hurt," he says.
Randy says he doesn't have many regrets about the way he has lived his life, and he sees his cancer just as bad luck. "I think that we all stand on the dartboard of life. Roughly 30,000 people a year are going to catch a dart labeled pancreatic cancer, and that's unfortunate. It's not what I would have chosen. But I in no way feel like I deserved it," he says.
Randy says he can't change the cards he's been dealt, but he can control how he plays them. "If you are hopeful, if you are optimistic, other people want to help you. And if you are down in the dumps, other people may still help you, but I've noticed that they're walking, not running, over to you," he says. "In the lecture, I talk about you've got to decide pretty early in life whether you're going to be a Tigger or an Eeyore. What I found is if you're an upbeat person, people will flock to help you, and suddenly everything gets easier."
Randy sees life as being 10 percent white, 10 percent black and 80 percent gray. "You can go through life and say, 'Gee, that 80 percent gray part, that's black, and life is a bad thing,'" he says. "Or you can say that 80 percent gray part's part of the white, and it's the goodness and the light. I want to view life that way. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. That 80 percent in the middle really can go either way, and if you decide you want to make it go good, not bad, you have a lot more power to make that happen than you might think."
As Randy faces his prognosis, thoughts about his final days come to mind. "I'm not keen on the process [of dying]," he says. "Not only is this not the cancer you want, it's probably not the last couple of weeks that you'd want."
Dr. Oz says pancreatic cancer erodes into the back and invades the nerves, causing a lot of pain, and it blocks off the intestines. "It's not pleasant at any level. The things you want to do in life, you can't do in life. That's a very reasonable thing to fear," Dr. Oz says. "You're often in chronic pain, and you can't eat. If you take away the ability to move and to eat, that's a large part of the human experience."
Randy emphasizes that medical improvements in pain management may make his last days of the disease easier to bear. "I've certainly heard from lots of people who have given me great encouragement, and they said, 'My dad died of pancreatic cancer and he was visiting with friends until eight hours from the end,'" Randy says. "So it's not like every case is going to be this sort of nightmare scenario."
As his cancer progresses, Randy has made a living will in order to make life a little easier for his family. But aside from planning a small ceremony, Randy says he isn't spending his days making funeral preparations. "I don't think that's a particularly great use of my time. I think spending just a little bit of time is the right way to do it. I'd rather, while I'm healthy, spend time with my kids and doing things that are helpful to other people while I'm still fairly vigorous."
While his priorities have not changed drastically, Randy says a lack of time is a major motivator. "There was a sort of logistical rush, because the analogy I use is that my family's about to get pushed off a cliff, and any good father says, 'I want to be there to catch them,'" he says. "Well, I'm not going to be there to catch them. But I'm spending my limited time sewing some really good nets to cushion the fall."
After hearing advice from counselors, Randy and his wife decided not to tell their young children about the cancer until it's absolutely necessary. "Until I become symptomatic, until Daddy looks sick," he says, "there's no sense in telling our children."
One thing Randy says he has been doing is thinking of ways for his children to know about him and what he thought of them. "Dylan, my oldest child, he's just a natural scientist. He's already figured out that the questions are more important than the answers.
"Logan, he's my little Tigger. He's got this joy for life.
"And my little girl, Chloe, well the thing I want to tell her is—you're not allowed to date until you're 30! But when you do start dating, my advice on boys is [to] just ignore everything they say and just pay attention to what they do. If you do that, you're not going to make all the big mistakes."
While speaking with Randy in Virginia, Dr. Oz says he suggested they take a break and toss around a football. So Randy went and got one—but it was no ordinary ball. The day before, he had worked out with the Pittsburgh Steelers and had the entire team sign a ball...and now he was going to use that prized ball to play catch!
"I said, 'We can't have a catch with this, it's signed,'" Dr. Oz says. "He said, 'What am I going to do with it?' We ought to all be living our lives like that. What's the point of saving it? We might as well enjoy it."
Oprah mentions a quote by Leonardo da Vinci: "As a well spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death." Does Randy think his life was "well used"?
"I'm married to an incredible woman, and I have great kids, and it's hard for me to imagine," he says. "I like to think that I have helped a lot of other people—and that's the best definition I know of time well spent."Watch families inspired by Randy Pausch's lecturefysrtvtybfrxrttx
Sadly, Randy passed away on July 25, 2008. Listen to how his story touched Dr. Oz.
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