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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

Gus Snare

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.

Bladder Cancer

Jackie Nalls

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."

Breast Cancer

Lymphedema surgery keeps breast cancer survivor's most painful reminder at bay
For Jacquetta Christodolos, the pain and swelling of lymphedema was worse than living with breast cancer. Christodolos had lymph node transfer surgery to help repair her damaged lymph node system that occurred as a side effect of breast cancer treatment. “It was well worth it, and I’m glad I had it done,” she said.

Silver Cross Breast Cancer Patient Draws Her Way Through Treatment
A nurse for almost 40 years, Therese Galvan understands the critical importance of finding the right place to get care and treatment. So when a lump she discovered in her left breast was found to be malignant, she turned to the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox.

Michelle McBride

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.

Eloise Orr

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.

Colleen Bokor

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.

Shirley Mertz

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.

Cervical Cancer

Jennifer Zinga with son, Rocco

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.

Emily Jordan with husband, Mike, and her mother

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.

Colon and Rectal Cancer

Margaret Harrigan

Like Daughter, Like Mother: Woman's Tumors Disappear During Colorectal Cancer Clinical Trial
Diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer at age 73, Margaret Harrigan followed the lead of her daughter, Debby Thompson. Decades earlier, a team of our experts successfully treated Thompson's acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). So, Thompson didn't think twice about bringing her mother to the University of Chicago Medicine for cancer care.

Taylor Murphy

Rolling with the Waves: Life After Rectal Cancer
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.

Mary Shedd

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.

Michelle and Elana Jahnke

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.

Endometrial Cancer

Mary Zirino

Endometrial Cancer Survivor Chooses Healthy Weight Loss to Help Lower Risk
After undergoing surgery for endometrial cancer, Mary Zirino's gynecologic oncologist, S. Diane Yamada, MD, cautioned her to lose weight. Zirino dutifully lost a few pounds but returned to her old eating habits within a few months. Following a second scare, however, Zirino fully committed to a healthier path.

Esophageal Cancer

Randall Cornish

Cancer Survivor Ready for Next Frame in Life
In 2011, Randall Cornish — who had previously been diagnosed with GERD — was undergoing a routine upper endoscopy when his gastroenterologist discovered a small polyp in his esophagus. The avid bowler was referred to the University of Chicago Medicine, where he met with two cancer experts and underwent an esophagectomy, an aggressive surgical treatment.

Tom Flint

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.

Esophageal and Pancreatic Cancer

Ron Schwarz

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.

Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor

Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor

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.

Head & Neck Cancer

Grant Achatz

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.

Amanda Ruiz

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.

Craig Martin

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.

Gary Hoffman

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.

Joe Shanahan

Music Man's Personal Journey Inspires Bowie Benefit
"I feel strongly about giving back to research because it holds the key to progress in this fight," said stage IV tongue cancer survivor, Joe Shanahan, who was inspired to stage a benefit to fund UChicago Medicine cancer research in March 2016. In 2014, Shanahan was a model patient throughout a 16-week course of chemotherapy and radiation, later followed by surgery to remove lymph nodes.

Kidney Cancer

Robotics Aid Surgeons in Operating Room
Using advanced robotic technology, surgeons removed a cancer-bearing kidney through tiny incisions.


Jenn Georges

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.

Hazel Strong

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.

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.

Lung Cancer

Jaunita Segura

Lung Cancer Survivor's Uplifting Journey
CrossFit enthusiast, Jaunita Segura, was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer and genetic testing revealed that she had a mutation that makes standard cancer treatment less effective. After being referred to the University of Chicago Medicine, Segura began a treatment regiment specifically designed to target her cancer. Now, she still visits UChciago Medicine for maintenance therapy when she isn't busy running her own CrossFit gym and raising money for cancer research.

Greg Klawitter

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.

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.

Barbara Arvia

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.


The CAR T-cell Chicago Story: One Year Later
A lifelong Notre Dame football fan's journey as the first UChicago Medicine patient to receive a groundbreaking new cancer immunotherapy, called CAR T-cell therapy.

Clayton Harris

Moving Forward After Lymphoma
After Clayton Harris was diagnosed with lymphoma, he trusted the University of Chicago Medicine to provide him with the best, most advanced treatment options available. His team created a plan that included surgery, a clinical trial and finally chemotherapy to put his cancer in remission. Now, he is just focused on enjoying with his wife and two young sons. " I choose to be happy. Life is good," he said.

Leo Galati

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."

Warren Bratton

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.


Gaining Hope and Healing After a Cancer Diagnosis
At 32, Jessica Blackford-Cleeton was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer of the lining of the abdomen. Her treatment included surgery and a targeted therapy called HIPEC, which involves bathing the abdominal cavity with heated chemotherapy to kill cancer cells that remain after surgery. The procedure was successful and Blackford-Cleeton gave birth to a son, Avery, in August 2017.

Tim Nelson

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.

Multiple Myeloma

Rebecca Zoltoski

No Place Like Home
Rebecca Zoltoski was the first patient at the University of Chicago Medicine to undergo a blood and bone marrow stem cell transplant as an outpatient for her multiple myeloma. The experience allowed her to be treated close to her house and then seek comfort in her own home each afternoon after being treated. Now, she is two years out from her outpatient treatment and she feels great.

Paul Voss

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.

Ovarian Cancer

Christine Gabriel

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.

Allison Sharpe

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.

Jennifer Bishop-Staley and husband

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.

Pancreatic Cancer

Diana Sokol-Roth

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.

Pam Duda

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.

Prostate Cancer

Dave Hicks

Run for Your Life: Leaving Cancer in the Dust
Two years after having surgery for prostate cancer, Dave Hicks had a recurrence of the disease. That meant a marathon of treatment: three months of hormonal therapy followed by eight consecutive weeks of highly focused radiation therapy to the prostate bed and pelvis. Remarkably, that did not dissuade him from training for the Chicago marathon while receiving treatment. "Dr. Liauw hasn’t had a patient try to do triathlons and a marathon during hormonal therapy and radiation, so he has been hugely supportive, while monitoring me closely," Hicks said.

Pat Navin

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.

Ken Tucker

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."

Skin Cancer

Carl Waldschmidt

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.

Stem Cell Transplant

Stem Cell Transplant Survivor

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.

Stomach Cancer

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.

Thyroid Cancer

Sheri Caine, first UChicago Medicine patient to the receive minimally invasive procedure, transoral thyroidectomy, to remove her thyroid cancer

A Minimally Invasive Surgery Option Offers A Truly Scarless Alternative
Sheri Caine didn’t want to be reminded of her thyroid cancer surgery every day. A UChicago Medicine surgical team, led by Dr. Zhen Gooi, was the first in the Midwest to remove diseased thyroid glands using an approach that leaves no visible scars.