Tania was the picture of health until her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in December 2020. She valiantly fought the disease, focusing on improving her mental health as well as her physical health through various conventional and alternative means. She even rallied a large group of teammates in Pancare’s 2021 Unite for Hope walk, gathering more than $15,000 in donations to support others with upper GI cancer. She sadly lost her battle in September 2022, but her legacy will continue through her story of hope, which has already touched thousands of Australians. We thank Tania for sharing her story.
“Don’t underestimate that feeling of heartburn that you’ve had; your skin may be going a little bit yellow and you’re feeling tired. They’re pretty simple side effects or symptoms of bile duct cancer. The other thing is, it doesn’t hurt to get a regular blood test because that’s how my cancer was diagnosed.
That’s what I would recommend; it’s so simple yet could save your life.”
A journey of conventional and alternative treatments
“I believe that mental health is just as important as physical health.” – Tania Abi-Assaf
Prior to her diagnosis, Tania Abi-Assaf, then 44, was the picture of health. She was living a positive lifestyle, eating well, weight and resistance training, while trying to walk 10,000 steps each day. She didn’t smoke, kept her weight within her age range and rarely drank alcohol.
So, when she started feeling lethargic and tired, and wasn’t sleeping well, the red flags started to fly. Her GP thought she was going through menopause. She then contracted glandular fever but after recovery found her blood tests normal. But then, later in the year, things started to change, in a dramatic and worrying way.
“I started to feel severe lethargy and shooting pains under my breastbone to the point where I couldn’t finish my gym sessions. I also started to lose my appetite and lose weight. I went back to my GP, but when she started to mention the menopause again I insisted that something else was going on. After a blood test, and based on my results, my GP thought I may have an issue with my gall bladder. But after an ultrasound they found a cyst on my pancreas which turned out to be Stage 4 pancreatic cancer metastasised to my liver. My whole life was turned upside down in a second.”
“I had never had to face my own mortality before and staring down the barrel of death was scary and traumatic. I couldn’t understand how I got pancreatic cancer; it wasn’t genetic, but my family does have a history of breast cancer, so it didn’t make sense to me.”
Tania quit her job, finding alternative means of financial support and found solace in a therapist who had been diagnosed with cancer and had conquered it. She believed that mental health was just as important as physical health.
“She had an idea of what I was really feeling and going through.”
Her therapy helped immensely and she explored a variety of other allied and holistic healthcare options. But what she really missed was her hair.
“Losing my hair through chemotherapy was the hardest part emotionally. I had thick, long hair which had always been a big part of my identity.”
Today, Tania credited the support of her family and friends for putting her into a much-needed mental space of hope, treatment and recovery. She also used prayer, journaling, visualisation, changing her diet to a vegetarian one, and working earnestly to boost and support her immune system during chemotherapy to help her battle her cancer.
She credited cannabis oil as one of the most important additions to her journey as well as exercise and making the most of “good days.”
“I didn’t want to fall victim to being ‘the cancer patient’ and still wanted to do the things that brought me joy. I organised trips away by the beach on my weeks off chemo and found that being near nature, especially water, was extremely healing. I also found that simply getting out of the house – a challenge during the pandemic – gave me something to look forward to.”
During and through her pancreatic cancer journey Tania also had many more revelations to share with us.
“I wish my Oncologist had discussed fertility with me. I don’t know if I had time to go through the process of freezing my eggs but it was never discussed with me. I also wish someone had suggested I get my eyebrows tattooed or feathered as losing all of the hair on my body, and not being able to recognise myself in the mirror, was traumatising. Once I started chemo I couldn’t have any of those procedures done.”
Tania discovered Pancare through a friend, who suggested she get in touch but she was reluctant.
“I was afraid of connecting with people who may have lost their battle with pancreatic cancer,” she says. “This would have been detrimental to my mental health. When I got the news that I was in remission I decided that I wanted to give back and provide hope for those that are in the same boat as me.”
Tania was a big believer that one’s mindset dictates one’s behaviour and what you attract in life. And to question your Oncologist about conventional and unconventional treatments and remedies when facing the challenges pancreatic cancer presents patients with. Apart from her loved ones whom she declared “the biggest blessing in her life,” she also learned the following things:
• To let go of control and surrender
• Not to sweat the small stuff
• When they say “life’s too short” – it really is!
• Don’t be afraid to get second and third opinions from medical specialists
• Try to achieve and hold a positive mindset
• Quiet one’s mind with prayer and meditation
• Not to put all my eggs in one basket; if I had relied on chemo alone, I’m not sure of where I’d be now
• To speak your truth, even in difficult situations.
We sincerely thank Tania for sharing her story, which has touched so many people, and for her contribution to Pancare’s Unite for Hope walk in 2021. Tania has helped people unite with hope in the understanding that a good quality of living is possible with pancreatic cancer.
Her legacy will continue in her family, friends and those she has helped during her fight against pancreatic cancer.