Survivor Stories

Since our inception, we have been committed to changing patient outcomes with the singular goal of turning patients into survivors.  We won’t stop until this page is filled with hundreds and then thousands of survivor stories. These survivors are just a few of the many that inspire us every day. Send your story to us at info@lustgarten.org.

Paulette’s Story

In December 2007, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. At the time, a pancreatic cancer diagnosis was the furthest thing from my mind—I was 63 years old and had no symptoms or family history of the disease. What brought me to my internist in the first place was a bout of diarrhea, which turned out to be unrelated to the diagnosis. Still, my doctor was insistent that we do further tests to find the cause, and his persistence ultimately ended up saving my life.

Two months after that initial visit to my internist, we ran the suggested tests and a tumor was found. My doctor was confident that it would likely be benign, and I tried to put the findings out of my mind. I was shocked when I found out the tumor in the tail of my pancreas was malignant and I would need surgery. In March 2008, I underwent a successful Whipple procedure and didn’t require additional treatment, as the disease was diagnosed at an early stage.

In March 2018, I celebrated being a 10-year pancreatic cancer survivor. I credit this positive outcome to the thoroughness of my internist and his recommendation of an excellent surgeon and facility. Even though my scans after the Whipple showed no evidence of disease, I still undergo routine scans each year. I try to live as independently as possible, have modified my diet to eat healthier, and I exercise regularly.

If I could give any advice, I would tell people to listen to their bodies. If something isn’t right, see your doctor. Early detection is why I am here and thriving today.

Camille’s Story

 

In March 2012, I was a healthy 53-year-old, who was living an active life in South Florida. That all changed when I started experiencing shortness of breath and back pain that I likened to sciatica, followed later on by severe stomach pains in my upper abdomen. At first, I visited my local urgent care center and my symptoms were quickly dismissed.  Then, after a night of debilitating pain, I went to the emergency room. The doctor on staff ordered a CT Scan. When he returned to my room he indicated that there were spots on my pancreas, liver and lungs. At that time, I was admitted for further testing and a liver biopsy later confirmed I had Stage IV inoperable pancreatic cancer. I was petrified.

The doctor on staff suggested I get a port inserted in my chest for chemotherapy treatments and then see the hospital’s pancreas oncologist. Upon waking up from the port surgery, the doctor and his nurse walked into my room. I asked him, “What’s my next step?” He replied, “It’s too late for you. Chemotherapy will not work. You will be gone within 8 months.”

Once I was discharged, I immediately got a second opinion at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. As soon as the doctor and his team at Sylvester walked into the exam room they made me feel comfortable. I knew I was in the right place. The doctor reassured me and said, ‘If your body can handle the treatment, it will work.”

The following week I began a chemotherapy treatment of FOLFIRINOX, which I continued for 17 months before going on ‘chemo holiday’ in July 2013, where I remain today. During treatment I weighed only 90 pounds, couldn’t eat, and developed neuropathy, painful nerve damage in my hands and feet. With each scan, my tumors began shrinking and my hope and determination increased. My most recent scans show no evidence of disease.

My treatment at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and the encouragement I received from the doctors and nurses while I was there made all the difference in my treatment and recovery.

Today, I once again lead an active lifestyle and enjoy bike riding, fundraising for the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and I am a member of the Patient and Family Advisory Council. I know how devastating receiving a pancreatic cancer diagnosis is and I want people to know that they should have hope. I share my story to inspire others and show them that they, too, can have a positive outcome.

Cancer tried to take my life, but instead it gave me a new purpose.

Fernando Licopoli

There is one three-word statement we always remember, but don’t want to hear: “You have cancer.”

In June 2009, a doctor conveyed those terrifying words to me. After delivering this crushing news, he told me I should find a surgeon, but I was paralyzed by fear that everything I took for granted, including my family and friends, would disappear.

Prior to my diagnosis, I was suffering from a grinding pain in my abdomen, fatigue, cloudy whites of my eyes, jaundice and intolerable itching which began benignly around my chest but progressively spread until I itched from head to toe and nothing could relieve it. I was lucky these symptoms appeared early and the tumor was detected at a treatable stage, as most patients are not diagnosed until the disease has progressed. I underwent the only potential “cure,” a surgical procedure known as the Whipple, and my surgery was a success. Only 15-20% of patients are eligible for this surgery.

Following surgery, my wife saw an ad in our Long Island newspaper for the Lustgarten Foundation’s pancreatic cancer walk, and I discovered that 100% of donations directly fund research. Less than one month after my surgery, my family and I attended the 2009 walk. Unfortunately, most participants walked in memory of someone who died from this disease, and I met only one other survivor. By 2011, there were nearly a dozen survivors at the walk’s Survivors’ Tent. In 2012, following a move to Florida, I started attending the Foundation’s annual Fort Myers Walk and have met more survivors each year.

June marked my 9-year anniversary as a survivor. To commemorate this milestone, I invite everyone impacted by this disease to join our pancreatic cancer community at one of the Lustgarten Foundation’s more than 40 walks nationwide. Together, let’s make sure there are more people like me waiting to greet you at the Survivors’ Tent.

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