At 70, Pru Mabry, of Melbourne, was diagnosed with stage III pancreatic cancer. At the time, she was a special needs teacher with no plans to retire. “Before the cancer, I probably would have worked until I was 80.”
However, discoloration in her urine, along with a case of jaundice and unexpected weight loss, led her to seek medical testing, including a biopsy.
Her gastroenterologist placed a stent into her bile duct and referred her to Shyam Varadarajulu, MD, gastroenterologist with Florida Hospital’s Center for Interventional Endoscopy. He detected a pancreatic mass during an endoscopic ultrasound.
She then met Pablo Arnoletti, MD, pancreatic cancer specialist with the Florida Hospital Cancer Institute. Having a team of doctors collaborating across different specialties and with community physicians “is a fundamental component of successful treatment,” says Dr. Arnoletti.
TREATING THE CANCER
“I recommended surgery, as her tumor appeared to be localized and resectable,” says Dr. Arnoletti. (Resectable means that the tumor can be fully removed through surgery.)
In May, Pru underwent a pancreaticoduodenectomy. “It’s a complex operation where the pancreatic head is removed with the bile duct, gallbladder, first part of the intestines (duodenum) and surrounding lymph nodes,” says Dr. Arnoletti. “To restore digestive function, the pancreatic duct, bile duct and stomach are reattached to the intestines.”
Another concern was that Pru has a rare disorder called paramyotonia congenita that can cause severe muscle spasms. During the surgery, her body temperature and potassium levels were monitored closely to avoid spasms.
HELP FROM CONNECTIONS FAR AND WIDE
In the end, Pru’s cancer was completely removed. The unique procedure, a strong team of doctors and overwhelming support from family and friends contributed to her survival.
Her friends even set up a website that logged more than 2,000 well wishes. “Colleagues as far back as high school got in touch,” reminisces Pru. “I definitely had guardian angels looking out for me.”
HELPING MORE PATIENTS SURVIVE
One difficulty with pancreatic cancer is that symptoms are often nonspecific. “And when they appear, they’re caused by more advanced tumors,” says Dr. Arnoletti. “If a pancreatic tumor is suspected, prompt evaluation by a team of dedicated and experienced physicians is recommended.”
At Florida Hospital, Dr. Arnoletti is involved in ongoing research initiatives for pancreatic cancer to help others gain a better understanding of the disease, which in turn, can lead to better outcomes.
As for Pru, she is feeling much better these days and spends time gardening, volunteering and playing with her grandchildren. She is thrilled to be cancer-free.