An automobile accident that demolished a Cleveland woman’s vehicle may have ultimately saved her life.
That is how Dorothy Hatton is describing her May 2, 2010, wreck on Interstate 75 North, when she was driving from Florida and returning home to Cleveland.
According to Hatton, the traffic accident that totaled her car and hospitalized her in a Calhoun, Ga., medical center, revealed hidden spots on her pancreas later diagnosed as cancerous.
“Nobody should say ‘Thank you, Lord,’ for a car wreck they had on I-75, but I do. Because it saved my life!” Hatton declared. “There was no reason why I should have had an accident. It was a sunny day and I was on my way home from Florida. I had gotten over into the right-hand lane to get off and get gas. All of a sudden, the next thing I knew was that they were pulling me out of my car! My insurance adjuster [later] said, ‘I don’t know how you got out of that car! How did you get out?’ I said, ‘I don’t know! I don’t recall anything until the paramedics were there.’”
Hatton, traumatized, said she ended up at Gordon Hospital in North Georgia, where doctors examined her and ran tests to see how extensive her injuries were. From outward appearances she suffered only minor cuts and bruises from broken glass and her seat belt, but no broken bones or serious lacerations.
“When they took me in and ran all their tests on me, they came back and said, ‘We found something on your pancreas. You also have a hiatal hernia. They told me to follow up on this with my physician back home. My doctor in Cleveland sent me to a specialist in Chattanooga.”
A CAT scan verified spots on her pancreas, an organ located behind the stomach, about 6 inches long but less than 2 inches wide that extends horizontally across the abdomen.
According to the American Cancer Society, “It is hard to find pancreatic cancer early. Because the pancreas is deep inside the body, the doctor cannot see or feel tumors during a routine physical exam. By the time a person has symptoms, the cancer is usually large and has spread to other organs. This is the main reason that people with this cancer often have a poor outlook.”
The specialist told Hatton she needed to have surgery, but Hatton was reluctant and procrastinated.
“I put this off almost too long,” she admitted. “The nurse kept calling me saying, ‘Dorothy, you’re going to have to have this surgery.’ And I thank the Lord that she kept calling me. So a friend drove me to Chattanooga in October (2010) and the doctor told me again that I needed to have surgery. I told him I’d like to go to Florida for the holidays first.”
After examining her and giving her another CAT scan, her specialist concluded her condition had not worsened and allowed her to go on vacation before her surgery.
“We set the date for Jan. 19, 2011,” Hatton said. Eight months after her auto accident Hatton had the surgery. When her biopsy came back it showed malignant tumors. She had pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest of all cancers. It’s five-year survival is only 3 percent. Fortunately for Hatton, her surgeon was able to surgically remove the cancer before it reached its most dangerous stage.
“I asked the doctor if I would have to have chemotherapy, and he said no,” she recalled. “He said he was sure he got it all. He told me, ‘You’re blessed! It was bubbling and getting ready to come out. And when it does it spreads all through your body and there’s nothing we can do.’ I had waited almost too long — just in the nick of time! I thought, how blessed am I! Once a year I have a CAT scan to make sure nothing has changed. I’ve had one every year since, and everything has come back good.”
The American Cancer Society said because the pancreas is located so deep inside the body, early tumors cannot be seen or felt by health care providers during routine physical exams. Patients usually have no symptoms until the cancer has spread to other organs.
Currently, there are no blood tests to find early cancers of the pancreas. The car wreck that resulted in the discovery and removal of a cancer that probably would have taken her life has Hatton thanking God for what she believes was a blessing in disguise. It has also given her a clearer, more appreciative outlook on life.
“Live every day to the fullest extent,” Hatton said. “Never take it for granted. Do what you can do, and what you want to do. Life is not to be taken for granted. I tell anyone who’ll listen if you have something wrong with you — you know your body. If it doesn’t go away in two to three days, go to the doctor! If people would get checked out even once every five years, it would be worth it. I’m just blessed because they found mine! If not, I wouldn’t be here today. The Lord has blessed me!”
Hatton, born in Indiana but raised in Ohio, worked 30 years in Cincinnati at an Avon factory before she and her husband, Darrell, moved to Florida, where he died after 47 years of marriage. After moving to Cleveland in 2007, Hatton has enjoyed traveling, especially back and forth between her two homes in Florida and Cleveland.
According to the American Cancer Society, rates of pancreatic cancer have been slowly going up since the year 2000. Estimates for new cases of pancreatic cancer in 2014 are 46,420, resulting in about 39,590 deaths from pancreatic cancer. With such a high mortality rate, Hatton said she wants to advise others to get checked out before it is too late.
Tests for certain gene defects can be done in people who have a higher risk for pancreatic cancer. The American Cancer Society strongly recommends any person thinking about genetic testing talk with a genetic counselor, nurse or doctor who can explain the test before they proceed with testing.
“It is important,” they say, “for people to understand and carefully weigh the benefits and risks of genetic testing before these tests are done.”
For further information, visit The American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org or call 1-800-227-2345.