By Margaret Hill
In the summer of 2017, my husband, Ed, was diagnosed with pancreatic neuroendocrine (PNet) cancer, a relatively rare cancer that accounts for only 6% of all pancreatic tumors. This was the same cancer that ultimately killed Steve Jobs, the famed founder of Apple, and a horrible, terrifying invader of our newly minted retirement.
Ed had what they called a malignant nonfunctional PNet tumor, which means he had no signs or symptoms of illness. By the time he would have experienced symptoms, the cancer would have been very advanced and too late for effective treatment.
Looking back, it’s been a stressful year of surgeries, dangerous infections, and multiple hospital stays, but we are feeling incredibly grateful for the good doctors, surgeons and nurse professionals at Beebe Healthcare who cared for Ed along the way.
The whole darned thing started with a fine summer meal of grilled burgers and sweet white corn. The corn, however, was a poor food choice because it aggravated Ed’s diverticulitis and landed him in Beebe’s Emergency Department with a fever and stomach pain. The CT scan he received confirmed diverticulitis, as well as a small kidney stone. He was discharged with antibiotics and a referral to Beebe Urologist Dr. Delbert Kwan.
Several days after the ED discharge and prescribed antibiotic treatment, Ed was feeling very much himself again. As we were heading out for a bike ride on another beautiful morning, we received a call from Dr. Kwan. Dr. Kwan wanted to know who Ed’s primary care doctor was. Well, we didn’t have one. Dr. Kwan then explained to Ed that he had reviewed the CT scan and he was very concerned about a large growth on his pancreas. The tumor needed immediate diagnosis and treatment.
It’s possible that many doctors would have left that critical CT report in the chart until Ed eventually came in for the follow up kidney stone visit. Maybe a few would have read the CT and done nothing. Dr. Kwan did neither of those things. What Dr. Kwan did is call a patient he had never met or seen before and adamantly insist that he seek treatment for a potentially dangerous tumor. He did not allow Ed to dismiss the urgency of the situation.
Within a couple of weeks, the tumor was biopsied and we knew we had a probable malignancy. We were told that many pancreatic cancers are surgically treated by a procedure called the “Whipple.” The Whipple is a complex, difficult surgery where the head of the pancreas, a portion of the small intestine and possibly the gall bladder and a portion of the stomach are removed.
Beebe did not perform this type of surgery at the time of Ed’s diagnosis and if this type of surgery was in Ed’s future, we would need to find a surgical oncologist, a specialist outside of the Beebe Healthcare system.
We were ultimately referred to an excellent surgeon at the Hospital of The University of Pennsylvania (HUP) who specializes in the surgical treatment of PNet tumors. After many tests, our surgeon determined that Ed was a candidate for surgery and removal of the tumor, however, we would first need a local medical oncologist who would provide care leading up to the surgery.
It was our good fortune to be referred to an excellent medical oncologist at Tunnell Cancer Center, Dr. Nisarg Desai. Dr. Desai communicated directly with Dr. Roses at HUP and coordinated all the tests and medication Ed would need prior to surgery. We expected the level of expertise and professionalism we found at Tunnell, but we did not expect the depth of compassion and understanding in the staff we met there. Thank you so much, Dr. Desai and Tunnell Cancer Center.
Ed’s surgery was scheduled on September 11, 2017, and remarkably, he did not need the dreaded Whipple. His surgeon was able to remove the central part of the pancreas where the large tumor was located, leaving the head and tail of the pancreas intact so that it would continue to produce insulin and necessary digestive enzymes. Nevertheless, it was a long and complicated surgery that would ultimately take an entire year to recover from.
I recently heard someone say, “time is a skillful redecorator of your memories.” The edges get blurred and softened. I’m sure there are parts of this past year that will be “redecorated” over time, but you can’t live this experience without forever remembering the extraordinary people along the way who changed your life.
People like Michelle Shockley at Beebe’s Advanced Care Clinic in Long Neck. Michelle and Ed hit it off from the moment they met because of a mutual interest in photography. She has vast clinical care experience and she’s a professional in every sense of the word. Michelle has been with us all year, every step of the way – helping us find doctors, helping us with appointments, providing much needed encouragement and friendship.
People like Cheryl Sparks, part of the Interventional Radiology Department at Beebe. Cheryl understood how hard it was to drive to Philadelphia every week for Ed’s catheter exchanges. Ultimately, moving the care to Beebe was not feasible, but she literally agreed to see us on a moment’s notice. Her desire to help us and her dedication as a nurse were clearly evident.
People like Rhonda Blakeman, our Home Health nurse provided by Beebe. We have never needed home nursing before and honestly, our expectations were not that high. Boy, were we wrong! Beebe’s home health nurses are impressive with their years of critical care patient experience. What a comfort to know that we had Rhonda coming by every few days to check on pancreas drains, liver drains and PIC lines. We couldn’t have asked for a more qualified or nicer nurse than Rhonda.
Now, as we prepare to celebrate the holidays, Ed is cancer free and finally well on his way to a full recovery.
I really believe that in healthcare, you need to exceed the standard of care at every turn to have this kind of outcome. Professionals working together, sharing their clinical experience and putting the patient first. Ed and I are so thankful we found that care at Beebe.
Construction has started at Beebe Healthcare’s new Emergency Department and Cancer Center on Route 17 in Millville. The Emergency Department will have 22 emergency bays and on-site imaging, including x-ray, CT, ultrasound and MRI. There will also be a helipad. The Cancer Center will provide convenient cancer treatments, close to home: medical oncology, chemotherapy and radiation oncology. Beebe expects the South Coastal Health Campus will open to see patients in the Summer of 2020. This new campus expands upon existing diagnostic imaging, physical rehabilitation, laboratory and walk-in care services already offered in the Millville area on Route 26.
As a community-based, not-for-profit healthcare system, Beebe Healthcare depends on the generous support of individuals, corporations, businesses, and private foundations. All gifts to Beebe Healthcare, large or small, are tax-deductible and are channeled through Beebe Medical Foundation. Please consider making a gift today to support the construction of Beebe Healthcare’s South Coastal Health Campus. To make your proud personal donation or to learn more about how Beebe is Creating the Next Generation of Care, go online to www.nextgenerationofcare.org or contact the Beebe Medical Foundation at (302) 644-2900 or email to [email protected]