Xan Harwood-Karlik, diagnosed at 29

I’ve always been healthy and active with hobbies including obstacle races, hang-gliding, and CrossFit. It’s normal to be sore from these activities, but one day I woke up experiencing abdominal pain which was not normal for me. I imagined it would dissipate on its own, but after five days of continuous pain I knew something was wrong and made an appointment to see a doctor. The doctor listened carefully as I told her about when the pain started, where it was, and how it progressed. Testing over the next few hours helped the doctor narrow the problem down to the pancreas, which led to a diagnosis of pancreatitis. I was glad to know the cause of the pain, and spent the night in the hospital to rest my system. The next day my symptoms had faded and I started feeling better, so the doctor sent me home.

“I am grateful that my doctor kept pushing for answers and found the real cause.”

Over the next few months, I went back to life as usual with no symptoms. When it came time for my annual physical, I remembered how thorough and compassionate the doctor who diagnosed my pancreatitis had been, so I made an appointment to see her again. During the appointment I reviewed my health history with the doctor, and we talked about the most common causes of pancreatitis—alcoholism and gallstones. The doctor listened when I told her I barely drink, and there were no gallstones shown in the ultrasound I had a few months earlier. With those two causes ruled out, my doctor was even more determined to find answers and ordered a CT scan to see what was going on. The imaging showed a mass in my abdomen, and after an endoscopy and further testing, I was diagnosed with stage 3 pancreatic cancer.

The key thing for my diagnosis was working together with my doctor. I recognized that abdominal pain was not normal for me, but when those symptoms went away I didn’t think to question the diagnosis any further. With both of us contributing to the process (my knowledge of my body and symptoms, and her medical knowledge) we were able to detect the cancer. I am grateful that my doctor kept pushing for answers and found the real cause.


  • unexplained abdominal pain