Triumphing Over Pancreatic Cancer

To celebrate her 75th birthday, Cindy Powers gathered with 20 friends at a local restaurant. The group honored their friend — a mother, grandmother and wife who had survived and thrived despite losing two husbands to cancer. Some reminisced about soccer mom days. Others marveled at her volunteer work as a hospice volunteer or the numerous 5Ks she has walked.

None guessed that only days ago Cindy had received a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

“I didn’t want to ruin the party,” she explains matter-of-factly.

A month before, Cindy had experienced intense pain in her right leg that didn’t go away with pain medicine or muscle relaxants. A doctor at Bethesda North Emergency Department ordered a CT scan to take a closer look.

“My leg was fine, but the scan showed a spot on my pancreas,” Cindy recalls. She recounts a sequence of tests and doctor visits that eventually brought her to Surgeon Thomas Maynard MD, FACS, director of the Division of Hepatopancreaticobiliary Surgery for the TriHealth Surgical Institute.

Dr. Maynard recommended a Whipple procedure to remove the cancer. The surgery is a complex process of removing the head of the pancreas, gallbladder, bile duct, segment of small intestine and lymph nodes adjacent to the pancreas to eliminate the tumor and any stray cancer cells.

Although Dr. Maynard thoroughly explained the procedure, Cindy wasn’t concerned about the details. “I said just do it. I felt my body was in the best hands, and I never questioned that.”

Outstanding Surgical Results

She entrusted her care to Dr. Maynard’s more than 30 years of experience in performing pancreatic surgery.  His patients who have received the Whipple procedure have a 0 percent 90-day mortality rate, which means each one has survived the critical first 90 days after surgery. This outstanding record and his low complication rates place him among the best pancreatic surgeons in the country.

In addition, Dr. Maynard is among a small group of specially trained surgeons in the U.S. using robotic-assisted, minimally invasive techniques for an increasing number of Whipple procedures and other pancreatic surgeries. With just five small cuts, this surgical approach gives patients faster healing and recovery, a shorter hospital stay and quicker follow-up with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Although the complexity of Cindy’s tumor required a traditional surgical approach, she made a steady recovery and was off pain medications within a day. To guard against the spread of undetected cancer cells, she received seven months of chemotherapy and half a dozen radiation therapy treatments, all with only mild side effects.

“I never felt bad from the time I came home. Dr. Maynard has been so compassionate and caring. He always makes me feel like I’m his number one patient. He sat on the edge of my bed at the hospital and talked to me like a relative,” she comments.

Life after Pancreatic Cancer

Two years after her surgery, Cindy attributes her cancer-free status first to God and her faith. She is grateful for the excellent care she received from Dr. Maynard, Bethesda North Hospital staff and her other doctors at TriHealth.

She does her part to stay healthy, as well: “I walk at Sharon Woods, cook my own meals, get eight hours of sleep at night and don’t eat junk food… although once in a while I get a Big Mac attack,” she jokes.

Cindy has walked six 5Ks this past year, each for a cause.  Her volunteer work with Hospice of Cincinnati — and more recently the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network — is a way of giving back.  “My background with cancer has taught me a lot. It’s why I can be compassionate with suffering. God saved me for a reason. I think everybody has a purpose.”

Tags Cancer