Good Health, Great Surgeons Give Pancreatic Cancer Patient a Second Chance

Norma Langellier Norma Langellier

Norma Langellier walked 379 miles this summer--a healthy feat for anybody, but particularly so because only two years ago, the 81-year-old Martinton, Ill. resident had pancreatic cancer.

Perplexing Pain

In early 2005, Norma was suffering from upper abdominal pain, nausea, and constant chills. Puzzled by her condition, her local doctor recommended that she see the experts at the University of Chicago Center for Gastrointestinal Oncology. Following two endoscopies and other tests, Norma learned she had pancreatic cancer. She then made an appointment with Mitchell Posner, MD, chief of surgical oncology.

Right away, Dr. Posner was impressed by Norma's overall health. She was active and took good care of herself. "I told him the only medicine I needed was eye drops," says Norma, a retired interior decorator. "He couldn't believe it."

Mitchell Posner, MD Mitchell Posner, MD

Norma's good condition meant that she was a candidate for a type of surgery to treat pancreatic cancer called the Whipple procedure. Surgeons at the University of Chicago Medicine are among the most experienced when it comes to performing this complicated operation. "Although many physicians and surgeons would not recommend this operation for patients they consider elderly," Dr. Posner says, "we have found that patients who are in reasonable health regardless of their age handle the surgery well. Therefore, why deny someone like Ms. Langellier the chance to experience more from her productive lifestyle?"

During the surgery, doctors remove part of the pancreas, leaving some of the gland intact so that it can still make digestive juices and insulin. The operation also entails removing the gallbladder, bile duct, small intestine, and sometimes a portion of the stomach.

Compassion and Expertise

In March 2005, Dr. Posner performed a Whipple procedure on Norma. Everything about the operation went well. "After the six-hour surgery, Dr. Posner spent a lot of time answering my family's questions. That made us all feel much more at ease," Norma says. "We have nothing but praise for him. He's absolutely wonderful--just so compassionate and caring."

Although many patients need to stay up to two weeks in the hospital, Norma was able to go home after seven days. She stayed with her son and daughter-in-law for another week, and then returned home to complete her recovery. Neighbors brought over food, which Norma needed to gain back the 40 pounds she had lost since becoming sick. "I felt good when I came home, but it took a couple of months to really get all of my strength back," she says.

Grace During Recovery

Norma's quilts A talented quilter, Norma donates her colorful creations to world relief organizations.

It's been more than two years since her surgery, and Norma is at her normal weight and feeling strong again. And the only medicine she still needs is eye drops. "I feel so, so good," Norma says. She tries to go for walks three times a day to stay healthy and keep busy. When she isn't clocking the miles she treks around town, Norma is baking toffee bars or making quilts to donate to world relief organizations. She also enjoys spending time with her family, which includes 16 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren.

"I am incredibly grateful to be so blessed," Norma says. "I had faith that it would work out, and it did. Having that frame of mind--and the support of my family--really helped me through this."

November 2007

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