Judi Zitiello has always been one of the helpers. As executive director of the JT Townsend Foundation, she helped raise money to provide medical equipment for folks with disabilities throughout northeast Florida. Earlier this year, she had to take a step back. On April 29, Judi was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
"I've never been sick before in my life, so this was quite a shock," she tells us. After Judi's diagnosis, her primary care physician helped her schedule a consult with surgeon Horacio Asbun, M.D., at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus. "My husband and I met with him the next day, and we scheduled surgery for May 12." In the meantime, she and her husband helped welcome their sixth grandchild into the world -- Jude, a bouncing baby boy named after Judi. "You talk about a reason to live!" she wrote on her blog.
Still, Judi tells the Florida Times-Union she knew the odds of survival weren't in her favor. But she tells us that after talking with others, she became convinced that trusting Mayo Clinic with her care would put any odds she did have squarely in her favor. "After researching it and speaking with other medical people I know, they assured me that Dr. Asbun and his surgical team would be the best I could find," she says.
Judi says those assurances were cemented after Dr. Asbun and his team went to "great lengths" to explain every detail of the procedure to her and her husband. "They were very frank with us in terms of the specifics and the gravity of the situation but were amazingly compassionate and wonderful at the same time," she says. They were also very frank about the complications they might face because of the tumor's location. "It was near an artery," Judi says, "but Dr. Asbun assured me that he wasn't afraid of that and that he'd done this before, so I felt confident that we should move forward."
Several hours later, that confidence was rewarded when Dr. Asbun came to see Judi in her recovery room. "He came in, sat down next to me and said, 'You're the reason that I do what I do every day. We were able to get all of the cancer out,'" she says.
And this Saturday, she'll be back -- among the helpers -- as she participates in the Mayo Clinic-sponsored Purple Stride Jacksonville 2014 event to raise money and awareness for her fellow pancreatic cancer patients. "We have a huge following of friends and supporters from the small community that we live in, and I've been able to gather 120 runners and walkers to be on my team," she says. "And to date, we've collected almost $11,000 to help fight this cancer."
You can help raise some awareness of your own by sharing your comments below and sharing this story with others via social media.