Cancer Patient Stories
Every year our physicians and staff care for many patients with cancer. We're proud to share some of their stories with you.
- Bile Duct Cancer
- Bladder Cancer
- Brain Tumor
- Breast Cancer
- Cervical Cancer
- Colon and Rectal Cancer
- Esophageal Cancer
- Esophageal and Pancreatic Cancer
- Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor
- Head & Neck Cancer
- Kidney Cancer
- Lung Cancer
- Mediastinal Tumor
- Multiple Myeloma
- Ovarian Cancer
- Pancreatic Cancer
- Pediatric Cancers
- Prostate Cancer
- Skin Cancer
- Stem Cell Transplant
- Stomach Cancer
90 is Just a Number for Whipple Surgery
At 90, Gus Snare became the oldest patient ever to undergo the Whipple procedure at the University of Chicago medical center. Our experts have found that older patients like Snare who are independent and healthy can recover from complex operations like the Whipple procedure. "As a geriatrician, I don't think about chronological age, but rather physiological age," said William Dale, MD, PhD, co-director of the Specialized Oncology Care & Research in the Elderly (SOCARE) clinic.
Getting Back to Life After Reconstructive Bladder Cancer Surgery
After learning that bladder cancer surgery involved removal of her bladder, Jackie Nalls consulted with Gary Steinberg, MD, an expert in urinary tract reconstruction. Steinberg created a new bladder from a portion of Nalls' small intestine, enabling her to live without an external bag to collect urine. The 54-year-old artist has become an advocate for women with bladder cancer. "After I recovered, I felt so blessed," Nalls said. "I wanted to help."
It was hard to tell the McCarthy twins apart. They even had the same cancer.
Kelly McCarthy diagnosed with breast cancer, and just four months after treatment, her identical twin sister, Kristen, was told she had stage 0 breast cancer. Kristen underwent a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. When Kelly required reconstruction, David Song, MD, chief, section of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of Chicago Medicine, was able to use Kristen's skin and tissue to create one of Kelly's new breasts.
Imagine Curing Breast Cancer
Sensitized to her familial risk of cancer by watching her mother succumb to the disease at 39 and the knowledge that her grandmother had died of it at 44, Michelle McBride underwent a test in 2006 that found a particular genetic mutation. After an arduous journey, she made the decision to have her breasts and ovaries removed, and turned to the University of Chicago Medicine for care.
Breast Cancer Team Combines Quality of Life With Quality Treatment
At age 20, Eloise Orr was diagnosed with breast cancer, the same disease that her mother died from at age 35. Over several years, Orr battled recurrent breast cancer and brain tumors, but was determined to not let cancer prevent her from achieving her dreams. "We tailored an entire regimen around her plans so this [treatment] wouldn't be an obstacle in her life fulfillment," said David Song, MD.
Tailored Care for Triple Negative Breast Cancer
Colleen Bokor was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer at the age of 27. This aggressive form of breast cancer does not respond to many common breast cancer medicines, such as hormone therapies. At UChicago Medicine, Bokor received customized care for her case, and participated in a leading-edge clinical trial. "I didn't feel like I was at another cookie cutter hospital. All my doctors were very much in sync, marching toward the same goal, and, as a patient, their constant collaboration helps you feel confident," Bokor said.
Former High School Principal Finds Correct Treatment for Metastatic Breast Cancer
In the world of breast cancer survival, Shirley Mertz has come a long way by battling for 17 years. University of Chicago oncologists tailored Mertz's treatment according to the biology of the tumor--an approach that reversed the course of her cancer. "I know that I would not be here today if it were not for the skill and expertise of Olufunmilayo Olopade, MD, and the other specialists and nurses at the University of Chicago medical center," says Mertz.
Heidi's Story: Cancer Risk Clinic Eases Fears
A cancer prevention plan helped ease Heidi's fears about breast cancer risk.
Rare Surgical Technique Enables Healthy Pregnancy After Cervical Cancer
When cervical cancer threatened Jennifer Mason Zinga's dream of having three children, she and her husband, Tim, were devastated. Yet, they refused to give up hope. Zinga came to the University of Chicago Medicine, one of few medical centers nationwide offering radical vaginal trachelectomy (RVT) as an alternative to a radical hysterectomy. Today, she is cancer-free and a mom of three.
Fertility Specialists Aid Mother's Gift: Carrying her Daughter's Child
When Emily Jordan was diagnosed with cervical cancer, her best option for recovery was a radical hysterectomy. For a young woman set on having children, this was devastating news. But with the help of medical center physicians and her mother -- who offered to serve as a gestational carrier -- Emily and her husband, Mike, are looking toward a bright future for their daughter.
College Student Survives Genetic Colorectal Cancer: 'Nothing Has Held Me Back'
At just 19 years old and with no family history of cancer, Taylor Murphy's life was upended when she received a startling diagnosis: rectal cancer. With help from a multidisciplinary team at the University of Chicago Medicine, as well as a first-of-its-kind procedure, Murphy is a 22-year-old college graduate with a positive outlook for her future.
Woman Chooses Laparoscopic Surgery for Effective Colon Cancer Treatment
Using his own hand-drawn illustrations, Konstantin Umanskiy, MD, helped Mary Shedd understand why minimally invasive surgery was the best treatment option to help her beat colon cancer. Umanskiy performed a laparoscopic lower anterior bowel resection--an alternative to open abdominal surgery--to remove the cancerous tissue from Shedd's colon. Following the procedure, she experienced no complications, a quick recovery, and minimal scarring.
Celebrating New Life After Cancer
Soon after Michelle Jahnke learned she was pregnant with her first child, doctors discovered the 30-year-old had stage 3 rectal cancer. Other physicians told Jahnke she needed to terminate the pregnancy because her unborn child would not survive the surgery and radiation therapy needed to treat the cancer. But with the help of seven UChicago Medicine specialists, Jahnke beat cancer and delivered a healthy baby girl.
Man Avoids Losing Esophagus to Cancer
When Tom Flint's Barrett's esophagus condition deteriorated into cancer, doctors at another hospital told him he had only one option--removal of the esophagus. Before considering such life-altering surgery, Tom turned to University of Chicago experts who used advanced minimally invasive techniques to treat the cancer and spare his esophagus.
Endoscopic Surveillance Leads to Early Detection of Two Cancers
In 2008, while monitoring Ron Schwarz’s for signs of esophageal cancer, interventional gastroenterologist Irving Waxman, MD, identified pancreatic cancer at a readily treatable stage. Four years later, Waxman found superficial squamous cell carcinoma in Schwarz’s esophagus. The 77-year-old Huntley, Ill., man was treated for both cancers and is back to enjoying his retirement.
Expert Treatment for a Unique Type of Tumor
When John Hunt was diagnosed with gastrointestinal stromal tumor, he did a lot of research to find the right specialist. "When my wife and I met Dr. Posner, we both liked him," Hunt said. "It was clear to us that he was a very skilled physician and an excellent communicator. He helped us understand what the game plan was and helped us gain confidence." After a successful surgery to remove two tumors, Hunt is enjoying a new career and life with his family in a new city.
Combination Therapy Saves Chef's Tongue from Cancer
When famed Chicago chef Grant Achatz was diagnosed with tongue cancer, several doctors told him that his only treatment option was the removal of most of his tongue. Faced with a career-threatening decision, Achatz sought help from University of Chicago cancer specialists who developed a combination therapy plan that spared Achatz’s tongue from surgery and put the cancer in remission.
One Cancer, Two Lives at Stake
Amanda Ruiz was 26, the mother of two young children, and 18 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with the nasopharyngeal cancer. Her medical team -- three head and neck cancer specialists and a maternal-fetal specialist -- designed a care plan to treat the cancer and save the baby.
Surviving Stage 4 Head and Neck Cancer without Surgery
Rather than undergoing major surgery for stage 4 tonsil cancer, Craig Martin of Libertyville, Ill., received a powerful first-line treatment regimen of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. "The team at the University of Chicago gave me an 85 percent chance of beating my cancer, which was a lot better odds than the 60 percent chance another oncologist gave me," said the father of three.
Man Takes Second Jaw Reconstruction Surgery Head On
UChicago Medicine plastic and reconstructive surgeon Lawrence J. Gottlieb, MD, performed a series of procedures to reconstruct Gary Hoffman's jaw and lower face after previous oral cancer treatment and surgery done at another hospital failed. Hoffman attributes the dedication and care of Gottlieb for helping him get past his illness.
Robotics Aid Surgeons in Operating Room
Using advanced robotic technology, surgeons removed a cancer-bearing kidney through tiny incisions.
Young Adults with Leukemia: Why it's Better to Treat Them like Kids
Diagnosed with leukemia shortly after college graduation, Jenn Georges learned that a clinical trial testing a pediatric therapy for young adults with cancer could give her the best chance at survival. Georges is part of a distinct group of patients referred to as AYAs: adolescents and young adults with cancer. In addition to offering the latest treatments for these patients, the University of Chicago Medicine helps AYAs take an active role in their care.
Strong After Stem Cell Transplant
After receiving chemotherapy for T-cell prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL), a rare type of leukemia with a poor prognosis, Hazel Strong was referred to the University of Chicago Medicine. She underwent a stem cell transplant, enabling her to be the energetic 70-year-old she is today. Hazel is one of many older adults now benefitting from this life saving procedure.
Tailored Treatment Brings Physician's Leukemia into Remission
Anjuli Nayak, MD, received a customized leukemia treatment plan that included chemotherapy and a unique clinical trial involving transplantation of stem cells from both a half-match donor and from donated umbilical cord stem cells. "I am so grateful to the leukemia transplant team for the care, compassion and courage received from the doctors and nurses. They have given me a rebirth, for which I am eternally grateful," Nayak said.
Three Generations, One Gene Mutation, No Cancer
Mica Witt and her daughter, Shannon Wilson, were both successfully treated at the medical center for a rare genetic form of cancer. Shannon's daughter, Kelsey 16, has not been diagnosed, but she shares the genetic mutation that could lead to leukemia.
Life After Lung Cancer: Biking, Golfing and Days at the Beach
Greg Klawitter underwent surgery for non-small cell lung cancer at the University of Chicago Medicine thirteen years ago. The retired Chicago police officer has not forgotten the thoracic surgeon who saved his life, "It takes a special human being to do what he does," he said.
Aggressive Therapy, Positive Approach Cure Lung Cancer Patient
When Tony Palumbo was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer and told it was incurable, he turned to the University of Chicago Medicine for a second opinion. Physicians at the University of Chicago agreed that surgery was not an option, but offered hope through a personalized treatment plan of radiation and chemotherapy. Six years later, Palumbo is still cancer-free.
History of Personalized Medicine Brings Future Hope to Lung Cancer Patients
The cause of Victor's lung cancer was a mystery to him--until experts from the University of Chicago Medicine traced it to a specific gene mutation. After enrolling in a clinical trial for genetically based drug therapy, Victor's tumor has shrunk and shows no signs of growth.
Minimally Invasive Surgery a 'Lucky' Option for Woman's Early-Stage Lung Cancer
In an ironic way, Barbara Arvia is grateful for the bunion on her foot. Preparation for foot surgery led to a surprising diagnosis of lung cancer--and to state-of-the-art treatment with video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS). Barbara's surgery was performed through three small incisions, which resulted in a shorter recovery and a faster return to her busy lifestyle.
Man with Lung Cancer Rides to Clear Recovery
Surgery for carcinoid tumor of the lung hasn't prevented John Williams from taking 15-mile bike rides along Lake Michigan's shoreline.
Leveling Lymphoma in the Central Nervous System: Multidisciplinary Team Deconstructs Carpenter’s Rare Brain Tumor
When carpenter Leo Galati learned he had lymphoma in his brain, he turned to the University of Chicago Medicine for his care. His medical team -- experts in neuro-oncology, neurosurgery, lymphoma and radiation oncology -- designed a treatment plan to deconstruct the rare central nervous system tumor. "I was determined to win the battle against cancer,” Leo said. “Now I am making the best of every day."
When a Diagnosis is Cancer, Where you are Treated First Matters
Warren Bratton had been suffering from episodes of chest pain and feeling faint when he came to the University of Chicago Medicine. After a series of tests, he was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of lymphoma. "If I had not been treated at the University of Chicago Medicine, I wouldn’t be here today," Bratton said. "I literally owe my life to Dr. Smith and her team."
Making Plans Nine Years After Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
When Marlene Markovich was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2003, she turned to University of Chicago Medicine oncologist Sonali Smith, MD, for help. Markovich enrolled in a clinical trial of an aggressive treatment regimen that helped her reach complete remission. Today, Markovich enjoys retirement and spending time with family and friends. "I have a lot to look forward to," she said.
Robotic Surgery Puts Patient on the Road Again
Jim Chessare had robotic surgery to remove a malignant mediastinal tumor. He went home a day after surgery and quickly returned to normal activities. "My outcome was so incredibly positive; it couldn't have been better," said Chessare. "I am the luckiest guy in the world."
Cancer Team Follows Through for Golf Pro
When Omaha, Neb., resident Tim Nelson was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2012, he chose the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center for his care. Every few months, Nelson and his wife, Kris, travel from Omaha to Chicago for check-up appointments with the mesothelioma team. "I keep feeling better and better since the surgery," Nelson said.
Stem Cell Transplant Puts Patient Back in the Saddle
When the normally busy general manager for the Dubai Equestrian Club was sidelined by horrible pain, Ali Alkhamiri was determined to get to the bottom of what was making him feel ill. After being recommended to the University of Chicago Medicine, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma by oncologist Todd Zimmerman, MD. Now, after receiving a stem cell transplant, Alkhamiri is back to riding horses and running after his toddler.
Advanced Therapy Halts Multiple Myeloma, Achieves Lengthy Remission
After being treated for multiple myeloma with radiation, chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, Gail Jarrett-Black participated in a clinical trial of a medication to improve long-term survival. Oncologist Todd Zimmerman, MD, says the drug has been very effective in suppressing myeloma cells.
Combination Therapy Puts Multiple Myeloma Patient Back on Course
Thanks to a new three-medication therapy for multiple myeloma, Paul Voss, DDS, feels good and looks ahead to many more rounds of golf. Today, the retired MIchigan dentist travels more than 3 hours for follow-up care at the University of Chicago Medicine. Multiple myeloma expert Andrzej Jakubowiak, MD, PhD, says the combination therapy "appears to deliver everything we expected and more."
The Waiting Game: Facing Down an Incurable Cancer with Optimism and Research
When Bill Herlihy was diagnosed with multiple myeloma at the age of 56, his oncologist didn't think he would ever leave the hospital. Herlihy is now in remission, thanks to innovative treatments and expert care from his physicians at the University of Chicago Medicine. While daily life remains a struggle, Herlihy is quick to point out that he feels lucky to be alive.
Back in the Saddle
When three-time breast cancer survivor Christine Gabriel learned she had primary peritoneal carcinoma, she turned to the University of Chicago Medicine for her care. Two weeks after finishing treatment, the horse racing analyst headed to Dubai to give commentary in the winner’s circle at the Meydan Racecourse. Six years after her diagnosis, Gabriel is still cancer-free.
Confronting Ovarian Cancer
Allison Sharpe didn’t recognize her fatigue as a symptom of illness. But then a visit to gynecologist Iris Romero, MD, led to a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Romero referred Sharpe to Ernst Lengyel, MD, PhD, an expert in cancers of the female reproductive system, for evaluation and treatment. "Our gynecologic teams are closely integrated and this greatly benefits our patients," Romero said.
From the Oncology Ward to the Maternity Ward
At age 19, Jennifer Bishop-Staley was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer. She underwent focused treatment that included removal of an ovary and the tumor inside it, as well as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Several years after surviving the cancer, Bishop-Staley gave birth to her first child.
Fighting Pancreatic Cancer with Spirit
Pancreatic cancer is a very challenging disease. Diana Sokol-Roth turned to the University of Chicago Medicine for treatment, where physicians are constantly involved in leading-edge research. Here, clinical trials and advanced treatment options abound.
Pancreatic cancer patient defies statistics, connects with others in fight for life
For Pam Duda, the highlight of her treatment for pancreatic cancer was talking with fellow patients while she waited for chemotherapy treatments. Duda was eager to learn everything she could about her cancer and treatment options. Throughout her treatment, the care team explained every step to her. "I had a real understanding of what was happening to me," Duda said.
The Ride of His Life
After being diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer, Pat Navin was determined not to let his fear cripple him. Instead, he road his bike 44 miles, from his home in Evanston, Ill. to the University of Chicago Medicine in Hyde Park, to receive radiation treatments. Now that Pat is cancer-free, he uses his bike rides to raise money for cancer research.
Genetic Analysis Guides Prostate Cancer Treatment
Genetic analysis of Ken Tucker's prostate cancer revealed that he was eligible to participate in a new, targeted treatment available through a Phase I clinical trial. "This is a case where genetics entirely guided the treatment," said medical oncologist Russell Szmulewitz, MD. "Knowing his mutation allowed us to place him on a clinical trial that makes specific use of his genetic mutation and, fortunately, he had a great response."
Mohs Surgery Removes Skin Cancer, Preserves Tissue
A basal cell carcinoma skin cancer on Carl Waldschmidt's lip was removed in three stages in just over three hours with Mohs surgery. Between stages, Waldschmidt rested in the dedicated Mohs waiting room where he was encouraged to relax and eat. "I thought the day would feel like an ordeal, but instead it was pleasant and I found interesting people to talk to," he said.
Medical Campus Hosts Annual Reunion of Stem Cell Transplant Survivors (Video)
On April 10, 2010, dozens of stem cell transplant recipients and their families gathered at the University of Chicago to share their stories of survival. Hear stories from patients who have recovered from leukemia and other blood cancers thanks to stem cell transplants; the donors who provided stem cells to loved ones; and the medical staff that cared for them before, during, and after the procedure.
After a Cancer Diagnosis, One Patient Dramatically Changed His Life
Ed Robinson doesn’t take what he calls his "second chance at life" lightly; he lives every moment of every day to the fullest. Diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer in 2005 with what many thought was a slim chance for survival, Robinson now leads an incredibly robust and productive life centered around Rita, his wife of 28 years; his family and friends; his full-time career; and his commitment to giving back through service to his community.