When did your pancreas story begin?
Nearly 10 years ago, I began suffering from abdominal pain, nausea, and difficulty eating. It took many years of appointments, testing, and other procedures for me to be diagnosed with Chronic Pancreatitis due to a ductal abnormality. Despite a cholecystectomy and other endoscopic procedures including multiple ERCPs with stenting, balloon dilation, and sphincterotomy, my symptoms continued to worsen. In April 2013, I underwent a Whipple Procedure, which was followed by a 3-week inpatient recovery and months of IV nutrition (TPN). My condition continued to deteriorate, so I underwent a Total Pancreatectomy with Islet Auto Transplantation (TPIAT) in August 2014. Since the TPIAT, I have been using an insulin pump to help control the resulting Type I Diabetes. My journey has also included other complications including cholangitis, a liver abscess, small bowel obstructions, hernias, anastomotic ulcers, and much more. The last 5 years have included many lengthy hospitalizations, ED visits, tests, procedures, and major surgeries. I have fought to reclaim my life, outside the walls of a hospital, without tube feedings and other home health care.
What’s a quote that has kept you going through your tough times?
As Horace once said, “Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.” This quote has carried deep meaning for me throughout my battle with Chronic Pancreatitis.
You mentioned fighting to “reclaim your life”, what was the process to begin that journey?
Before my battle with Chronic Pancreatitis began, I was an athlete. I was active with fastpitch softball and other sports/exercise. Although I was weak, underweight, and deconditioned when I started my journey, I was determined to reclaim my fitness level. When I was sick, I could hardly stand up straight, much less run a mile.
With my athletic background, it was natural that I wanted to start rebuilding myself by getting back into exercise. It wasn’t easy. It took years of persistence in the gym, but I am finally happy with the results of my hard work. Last year, I started running races. My goal was to just finish and enjoy the journey.
What are your future goals right now?
At this time, I am a Certified Athletic Trainer and working at a busy Orthopedic Surgery clinic, while I submit applications for medical school. From a young age, I wanted to become a surgeon. Every day that I am able to work, help others, and work towards my goals is a true blessing. I am forever grateful for this “second chance” at life without the disabling effects of Chronic Pancreatitis. Every day, I am grateful for the opportunity to go to work, go to the gym, eat food, and just enjoy what each day brings.
What’s next on your racing docket?
I am thrilled to run with the NPF team at the Marine Corps Marathon and 10K race. It will be an honor and a privilege to run on behalf of the pancreas community and to help other patients through tough times, advocate for their health, and reclaim their lives. I want to run for those who can’t. I also want to share my story and serve as an example for others that things can and will get better, no matter how dark the days may be. Just a couple years ago, I was walking laps around a surgical floor, pushing an IV pole. Now, I’m training for the upcoming race season, working in the gym daily with running, boot camp classes, spin classes, weight lifting, and more. I’m truly “living the dream”. I cannot wait to represent “Team Pancreas” at the Marine Corps Marathon and 10K race on behalf of The NPF.
We realize that having a good system is vital for those this pancreas disease. Who would you say is part of your “village”?
I did not get to where I am today without the help and support of many others. Therefore, I would like to thank some people for helping me along my journey. First and foremost, I would like to thank my mother, Valerie Zecca, for her unwavering love and support during the best and worst of times. I truly would not have survived without her by my side. I’ve also been extremely fortunate to have a great team of doctors taking care of me over the years. I would also like to thank the following members of my medical team: Dr. Dunn, Dr. Bellin, Peggy, and Louise at The University of Minnesota, Dr. Kalloo and Megan at Johns Hopkins, and my entire care team with INOVA, including Dr. Piper, Dr. Tekola, Dr. Champaneri, Dr. Scripps, Dr. Dobrzynski, Dr. Delman, and Dr. Patel, Colleen, and Favi.
I also owe a special shout out to the 11th floor surgical team at INOVA Fairfax Hospital for nursing me back to health after numerous major surgeries, Debbie, my home health care nurse, and Christine, my counselor. I’m also grateful for my friends and trainers at the gym, who have helped motivate, support, and encourage me throughout my journey back to health. There are so many other people who have helped me get to this point and I have nothing but gratitude for all who have helped me reclaim my life.
To support Danielle in her fundraising efforts for the Marine Corps 10K on October, 28, 2018, please CLICK HERE.
To join the Marine Corps Marathon or Indianapolis Marathon NPF Running Team (November 3, 2018), please see the links below: