Second Opinion Brings Michigan Woman to Expert Surgeon in Chicago

Georgann, 74, is a frequent bowler, sudoku fan, and animal lover. What's more, she's a five-year survivor of pancreatic cancer.

The Michigan resident and former math teacher has been cancer-free since early 2002, and she considers the surgeon who helped her to be her hero.

The Benefits of Brotherly Love

Georgann Georgann

In late 2001, Georgann was troubled by abdominal pains and heartburn. "I felt so bad, I didn't feel like getting Halloween candy for the kids, which I always do," she says. She went for her annual physical in November, and blood and ultrasound tests revealed she needed her gallbladder removed. Over Thanksgiving week, Georgann had gallbladder surgery in Michigan, but she developed an inflamed pancreas. In addition, tests suggested she had pancreatic cancer--a diagnosis that frightened Georgann, who had lost a friend to pancreatic cancer only a year before. She knew she had to get a second opinion.

During that difficult time, Georgann turned to her brother, David. A former principal, David was by Georgann's side. "David had heard that cancer doctors at the University of Chicago were some of the best in the country," Georgann says. So Georgann's local doctor referred them to Mitchell Posner, MD, a cancer surgeon at the University of Chicago Medicine Center for Gastrointestinal Oncology.

Georgann and David made their first visit to Chicago to see Dr. Posner in January 2002. He confirmed the diagnosis and told Georgann that she was a candidate for surgery that was the most effective means of controlling her pancreatic cancer.

The operation, called the Whipple procedure, is extremely complex, and doctors at the University of Chicago Medicine have a very high success rate with the procedure. Once patients recover from surgery, they are then individually evaluated to determine the need for chemotherapy or radiation to help control their cancer.

Surgery and Staying Healthy Afterward

Georgann returned to Chicago in a few weeks to have her surgery. During the six-hour operation, Dr. Posner removed a portion of Georgann's pancreas, as well as her bile duct and the first portion of her small intestine, the duodenum. She stayed in the hospital for about a week and a half, and then drove back to Michigan with David. Tests showed that Georgann's lymph nodes were cancer-free, and therefore chemotherapy or radiation therapy was not recommended.

Recovering from surgery meant that Georgann would have to rest up for several weeks. Dr. Posner also advised her to adjust her lifestyle habits to reduce her risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which sometimes occurs after the Whipple procedure. Georgann didn't start exercising seriously until about a year ago when she was diagnosed with diabetes. But since then, she has stepped up her exercise routine to include a two-mile walk nearly every day. She also has trimmed unhealthy foods from her diet. After a year of walking and eating right, Georgann has slimmed down 40 pounds to a healthy weight--key to controlling her glucose level.

"When I would walk by one of my neighbors, she would call out, ‘there goes the lady who keeps getting skinnier and skinnier,'" Georgann says.

Support, Prayer, Advice: A Potent Mixture

More than five years after her surgery, Georgann has been feeling well, except for a low-functioning thyroid that is unrelated to her surgery. She volunteers as an usher at a local performing arts center and finds joy in caring for stray animals. Each year now, she visits Dr. Posner for a checkup.

Georgann credits the power of prayer with helping her get through the rough patches. During the hardest times, her brother David was also a bedrock of support. In addition, there was her instinct to get a second opinion. "I feel very fortunate to have landed in Dr. Posner's hands," Georgann says. "I probably wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him."

January 2008

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