Sharon, 72, had a history of acid reflux and was being treated for a hernia, so the back pain she was experiencing wasn’t alarming to her. She went to visit her primary care doctor to follow up on the medication she was taking for her hernia and talk about the consistent back pain she had been feeling. After discussing her symptoms, Sharon’s doctor ordered an ultrasound to see what the cause might be. It was this diagnostic test that discovered Sharon had pancreatic cancer.
After the initial diagnosis, Sharon went through multiple ultrasounds and biopsies to determine next steps. She had a lesion on her liver that her oncologist believed was the spread of disease, despite a negative biopsy. This is when she met with pancreatobiliary and foregut surgical oncologist, Atuhani Burnett, MD, PHD. Dr. Burnett explained how every patient is different, and a treatment plan that works for one person might not work for another.
Dr. Burnett collaborated with Sharon’s medical oncologist, Jonathan Treisman, MD, to create a personalized treatment plan. Sharon underwent eight rounds of chemo before determining surgery was needed.
“Sharon was determined to move forward with surgery despite the liver lesion and the possibility of this representing the spread of disease. After listening to her to understand her wishes, as well as having a robust discussion in our multidisciplinary tumor board, we decided to move forward with surgery,” Dr. Burnett said.
At Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital Milwaukee, Sharon had a distal pancreatectomy, (partial removal of the pancreas), splenectomy (removal of the spleen), and a partial liver resection (removal of diseased part of the liver). On the final pathology report, the liver lesion was negative for cancer, and the cancer in the pancreas was completely removed.
“Our multidisciplinary cancer care team at Ascension Wisconsin takes into account both the science, the medicine, but also the unique patient considerations in how treatment strategies are crafted,” Dr. Burnett shared.
Team approach helps navigate tests and support services
Undergoing cancer treatment can be challenging, but during all of this, Sharon also lost her husband of 52 years. While she recalled her loss, she emphasized the kindness and support she felt from the entire care team at Ascension Wisconsin. With tears in her eyes, she remembered team members making sure she was always supported and cared for during this especially difficult time, even offering hugs when needed.
Not only was Sharon heartbroken, but her two daughters were as well. Sharon mentioned, “The care was great. Everyone was very attentive. They made my daughters feel very comfortable as well… helping all of us during the grieving process.”
Along with the support Sharon felt throughout her care, she also mentioned how well the care team coordinated her treatment plan, from the diagnostic tests ordered from her primary care doctor through surgery to chemotherapy, and how she didn’t have the additional stress of scheduling all her appointments. “The office took care of everything, I didn’t have to schedule anything,” Sharon recalled.
With her appointments scheduled, Sharon could focus on taking care of herself and recovering. After four days in the hospital post-surgery, she was back home and moving around well. Her neighbors and daughters were all surprised by how well she was doing and how well her recovery was going.
“People should be very willing to go to Ascension Wisconsin [for cancer treatment]. They explained everything so thoroughly and I could understand everything going on. I couldn’t have asked for better care,” Sharon emphasized.
Today, her scans show no cancer, and the lesion on her liver that was causing concern is no longer considered cancerous. In terms of the back pain that originally brought her in for care, Sharon mentioned how surprised she was that the pain went away right after her first round of chemo. She is continuing treatment at the Reiman Cancer Center - Ascension Wisconsin Health Center - Rawson Avenue and only has a few more rounds of chemo remaining.
“It is a testament to Sharon’s determination, and a credit to the doctors who listened to her, that she now stands cancer free,” said Dr. Burnett.
Sharon has now returned to the things she loves most. She is back to riding her bike, taking walks with her dog, Daisy, and spending time outdoors and with her family.
Compassionate, supportive care teams
Hearing the word cancer comes with a lot of thoughts and emotions, but we’re ready to support you. Upon your diagnosis, you'll meet with your doctor and care team face to face to thoroughly discuss your diagnosis and your care options. Our experienced cancer doctors share best practices and the latest in cancer treatment and research - bringing the best of cancer care to you. Your doctor will take the time to answer your questions — big and small — paying attention to your needs and those who support you. You and your doctor will work together on a personalized care plan. And with a plan, comes hope.
Find out more or schedule a consultation or second opinion at ascension.org/WisconsinCanceCare.