Chesterfield mother battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer is defying the odds: ‘I’ve been given a second chance’

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Emily Koski has always loved and lived her life to the fullest.

Whether training for marathons, running a successful interior design business, or raising five beautiful daughters in her blended family, Emily finds passion in everything she does.

She's now passionately battling the fight of her life at the age of 48.

In May of 2018, Emily was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. The same disease that suddenly took her older sister's life just one year earlier.

"I thought I also had 43 days to live," says Emily. "I can't be angry at all the doctors who missed my diagnosis, it's not their fault."

After her sister's death, Emily had genetic testing to determine her chances of developing the fatal disease. The test results showed she had a minimal chance of just 6%. But a few months later, Emily began feeling pain in her calves while she was running. The pain eventually spread to other parts of her body.

Pancreatic cancer occurs in the abdomen. The disease is difficult to treat because it is often detected late, spreads rapidly and has a poor prognosis, with a 5-year survival rate of just 1% in its late stages.

"The thing that is so deceptive about pancreatic cancer is it's in the abdomen, but it's so deep in the abdomen by the time you have any abdominal pain, it's stage three or four," Emily says.

While there are only 55,000 cases each year, pancreatic cancer is among the leading causes of cancer death in the United States.

Dr. Michael Rose, M.D., a surgical oncologist with Johnston-Willis Hospital, confirms the disease's challenges when it comes to treatment and survival.

"Anatomically if you look where the pancreas is, one of the problems is it's not surrounded by coating," Rose says. "It's not surrounded like other organs so it has easy access to the lymphatic system," Rose says.

Pancreatic cancer is typically treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Unfortunately many patients aren't candidates for surgery or radiation because of the proximity of critical organs around the tumor.

Doctors hope research and education will help lead to more aggressive treatments in the future where oncologists, radiologists and surgeons are able to treat patients earlier using a stronger combination of treatments tailored to individuals.

"We're going to treat earlier with better chemotherapeutic agents and probably, in my mind, most likely immunotherapeutic agents," Rose says.

Emily is trying to make that happen sooner rather than later.

With renewed energy and strength that she didn't have just a few months ago, Emily and her friends have organized races, pancake fundraisers and most recently, a handstand challenge to raise funds for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

Emily, who has shown resilience throughout her illness, says she gets emotional thinking of her friends.

"My friends have literally carried me through this, carried me and carried my family through," Emily says. "I don't think it's any mistake that they've been my friends. They're my world."

Emily hopes faith- in God and in medical science- will give her the miracle she needs.

"It's just amazing to know I've been given a second chance," Emily says. "I'm going to live it."

For more information on pancreatic cancer or the handstand challenge, contact the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

Working For Your Health is a partnership with HCA Healthcare. Serving the greater Richmond area, Chippenham, Henrico Doctors’, Johnston-Willis, Parham Doctors’, and Retreat Doctors’ Hospital are part of HCA Virginia. Watch for Working For Your Health reports Tuesdays on CBS 6 News at 7 p.m.

Watch for Working For Your Health reports on CBS 6.

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