February 24th, 2017
Thomas Hoffman of Spearfish, South Dakota, was 56 years old, weighed 235, and had been diagnosed with prediabetes when he began to diet. As the pounds melted away, his wife became alarmed at his rapid weight loss. Then one morning, he awoke and his wife told him he was completely yellow — not from the sun streaming into the bedroom, but from jaundice. Thomas went to a local emergency room.
“The doctor comes in and gives us the news: ‘You have pancreatic cancer. You’ve got six months to live. Get your stuff together,’” Thomas says. “What do you do?”
December 23rd, 2016
In August 2014, Richard Carvajal, then 43, was in the best shape of his life. He was excited as he left his home in Bainbridge, Georgia, to compete in his first Olympic-distance triathlon. But as he drove across Alabama on his way to the race site, he started feeling sharp abdominal pain.
“It kept getting worse and worse, and I literally crawled into a Birmingham emergency room,” Richard says.
Although doctors initially thought Richard’s pain was caused by kidney stones, it turned out to be a symptom of a much more difficult problem. Testing eventually revealed Richard had pancreatic cancer.
November 13th, 2015
An avid runner, Judi Zitiello, 66, was forced into a six-week hiatus when she developed a meniscus tear in early 2014. The retired financial executive was always active – exercising, hosting dinner parties, and volunteering to run the JT Townsend Foundation, a Jacksonville, Florida, philanthropic organization.
Judi wasn’t too concerned about the downtime at first. She knew her body would take time to heal. But the pain lingered. Then Judi began losing weight and her energy waned.
November 14th, 2013
Barbara Nehr and her husband Adam had recently retired. Their shared passion for designing and flying experimental airplanes had taken them on many adventures in the past 20 years – adventures they planned to continue. But then the Orlando couple’s plans took a detour. A routine test showed Barbara’s body was not flushing out toxins as normal, and she was experiencing yellowing of the skin and itching.
Cancer of the pancreas affects 45,000 people every year in the U.S., and it is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths. The five-year overall survival rate if a tumor is detected early and surgically removed is 22 percent, versus 6 percent without early detection and surgery.
“I did some research and Mayo Clinic came up with the best surgical team and the most experience with Whipple procedures,” a well-known treatment for tumors in the head of the pancreas, Adam says.
The couple came to Mayo Clinic in March 2010 where further tests confirmed pancreatic cancer. “Dr. Asbun [pancreatic surgeon] came to see me in pre-op and I asked him about the results [of the latest test],” Barbara recalls. “He told me ‘yes, it is cancer’…but immediately added ‘we’re going to get it’.”
“Pancreatic cancer unfortunately does not have a good prognosis, but if we focus on the positive there is much we can do to help patients,” says Horacio Asbun, M.D., chair, Division of General Surgery at Mayo Clinic in Florida, and a specialist in hepatobiliary surgery, including the delicate Whipple procedure. In Barbara’s case, she was a candidate for the laparoscopic Whipple, which not only allows for faster recovery, but can be a better operation for some patients. [Dr. Asbun narrates this animated graphic that illustrates the Whipple procedure]
“There are three main types of treatment available for pancreatic cancer: surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Surgery has the highest chance for success; in fact, today it’s the only chance for cure in patients with pancreatic cancer,” Dr. Asbun explains.
The laparoscopic Whipple surgery was successful and Barbara was able to return to Orlando within days,where she started follow-up chemotherapy and radiation therapy in coordination with the doctors at Mayo Clinic.
Three years after her surgery, Barbara, now 68, leads an active life and takes pride in supporting pancreatic cancer awareness. Even her garden boasts to her survivorship – with purple decorations and flowers.
She’s an active volunteer with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and has traveled the country to support other survivors and raise awareness about pancreatic cancer and research, attending Purple Stride events and rallies in Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville, Fla., as well as Washington, D.C.
“I very definitively feel that my coming to Mayo Clinic changed the outcome,” Barbara says. “With Dr. Asbun telling me that he was going to get that cancer out of me, I knew I was in good hands.”
MEDIA: For this story, you can download several video clips and photos in full resolution, from this post, via the Mayo Clinic News Network.
May 31st, 2013
Dorylee Baez lives fearlessly.
Whether flying down a zip line or organizing a pancreatic cancer patient group in Puerto Rico, she plunges into life with zest.
The 31-year-old academic advisor at Universidad del Este in Carolina, Puerto Rico, is known as someone who is tenacious, overcoming whatever obstacles get in her way to achieve and achieve her goals.
For instance, Baez attended college while simultaneously working and caring for her ailing mother who was suffering from lupus. After her mother died, Baez pressed on to honor her memory and completed a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in college-level education administration. But then, at 29, Baez learned she had a large tumor in her pancreas. Not the diagnosis she was expecting when she went to the doctor.
Tags: American Indians, chemotherapy, colon cancer, FL, Florida, gastroenterology, Hematology, Hepatology, liver cancer, MayoClinicFL, mononucleosis, oncology, pancreatic cancer, patient story, radiation therapy, Whipple Procedure
December 15th, 2012
The first time John Fulton was diagnosed with cancer, he was 15 years old. Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer, struck twice within a couple of years. John enrolled in a clinical trial originally staged at Mayo Clinic to fight the disease and won the battle. To have remission after recurrence was unusual, a feat that meant, in John's words, that he "beat the system."
In 2002, John was having a routine physical when spots were found on his pancreas, a classic indicator of a serious condition. John's physician recommended advanced treatment, gave him a referral, and John called Mayo Clinic that same afternoon. Read the rest of this entry »
May 3rd, 2012
Mindy Cahn is living proof that pancreatic cancer can be beat.
The odds can be daunting. According to the National Cancer Institute, the five-year survival rate for localized pancreatic cancer is 21 percent. For cancer that has spread, the survival rate is about 9 percent.
Cahn, 60, had been diagnosed with a softball-sized cyst on her pancreas 20 years ago. Told it was benign, the West Palm Beach, Fla., mother of three didn’t worry about it.
August 12th, 2010
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, with a 20 percent relative survival rate after one-year and a four percent survival rate after five-years for all stages combined, according to the American Cancer Society.
With these shocking statistics, one pancreatic cancer survivor wonders how he has beaten all odds and is still sharing his story 10 years after diagnosis.
Robert Horner was 76 years old in 2000 when he started to experience severe abdominal pain. After getting his heart checked and finding nothing wrong, a complete screen was done, showing Robert’s liver enzymes were off the charts.
“After three weeks of countless tests and exams, the radiologist called my wife, Shirley, and I into his office and pointed out an abnormality in my pancreas,” Robert says about his visit to a local hospital in Naples, Fla. The doctor diagnosed his cancer at stage IV, which is the most severe and life threatening of cancer stages.
While Robert’s medical concern was continuing, he and his wife were planning to migrate north to their summer home in Pennsylvania. Once they returned home, a surgery was scheduled to remove Robert’s cancer at a nearby hospital. After four-and-a-half hours of surgery, the doctor was unable to reach or remove any of the cancer. Robert was given six months to live and told to go home and spend his remaining days with his family and friends.
Neither Robert nor his supporters were willing to give up just yet. With the help of Robert’s close friend and former Mayo Clinic surgeon, Dr. Robert McKee, Robert tried another option before finally deciding to make a trip to Rochester, Minn.
Robert was able to get an appointment within five days of calling, making his first impression of Mayo Clinic very positive. Dr. Stephen Frytak, a Mayo Clinic medical oncologist, decided to start with chemotherapy and radiation, hoping it would shrink the tumor to a more operable size. After eight weeks of treatment, another appointment was made, and just as hoped, the tumor had shrunk.
On January 6, 2001, after nine-and-a-half hours of surgery, Dr. Michael Farnell, Mayo Clinic gastroenterologic and general surgeon, proudly announced he and his team were able to fully remove all of Robert’s cancer.
“With the support of my talented operating crew and able assistants, a difficult pancreatic tumor resection was accomplished safely. The procedure was particularly complex because of the need to both take down the prior operation and to remove a portion of the portal vein. I remember to this day his wife, Shirley’s, elation when the good news was shared,” says Dr. Farnell.
“And I remember this moment as one of the many miracles of my life,” Roberts recalls. “Everything had come together to result in me finally being cancer free.”
Visits to Mayo Clinic in Rochester continued every six months until Dr. Frytak, who both Robert and Shirley had grown very fond of, announced his retirement. With their close friend and doctor now leaving the practice, Robert asked if there was a doctor at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville with whom he could visit instead. Sure enough, there was. Robert started visiting Dr. William Maples, a Mayo Clinic medical oncologist, in Jacksonville twice a year for check-ups.
During one of these appointments, tests caught a small tumor on the upper lobe of Roberts left lung. A wedge resection was performed and no other treatment was needed for Robert to be cancer free once again. The removed lung tissue was later identified as the same type of cancer previously removed from his pancreas.
Continuing on with life only required minor changes said Robert, but lack of energy was a frustration, especially when it came to trying to maintain an active role in the local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity.
“I could no longer raise walls and put on roofs or siding, and I started to wonder if my presence was even helping,” Robert said. “This is when I came across an inspirational article about an athlete who lost the use of his legs. He was able to turn his spirit around on his own by looking to the future and deciding to live life by ‘focusing on what’s left, not on what’s lost’. I decided I had to do the same.”
This year marked the 10 year anniversary of Robert being free of pancreatic cancer. Robert and his wife decided it would only be appropriate to share their happiness with the Mayo Clinic doctors who helped them reach this milestone.
“My wife wrote to all three doctors informing them of the milestone, and to our surprise all three responded with joy and thankfulness,” Robert said. “My wife and I are very grateful for all the wonderful people at Mayo Clinic.”
This post was submitted by Heather Orfe, a summer intern in the Mayo Clinic Department of Public Affairs in Rochester.
May 14th, 2009
On Mother's Day, Jeanine Peterson told the story on her blog of the special gift she gave her mom, a Mayo Clinic patient. With her mom's permission, we share a portion of the story here: