In July of 2014, Bonnie suddenly started experiencing grinding pains in her stomach on the left side. She went to see her local gastroenterologist, who ran some tests. The CT scan revealed a growth on Bonnie’s pancreas.
Three days after her biopsy endoscopy, Bonnie met with a Penn GI surgeon focusing on pancreatic cancer surgery.
“After I was diagnosed with Stage 3 pancreatic cancer, I knew I wanted to go to Penn Medicine," says Bonnie. "I’d researched them, I knew of their expertise in the field, and I knew I’d be in the best hands.”
Her surgeon carefully reviewed Bonnie’s diagnosis with her. Bonnie’s growth was on the tail of her pancreas on the artery leading to her liver, the celiac artery.
Unfortunately, surgery wasn't an option. Her pancreatic cancer had already extended outside the pancreas to involve the major blood vessels near the pancreas. They couldn't scrape a tumor off an artery without damaging the artery and endangering her life.
Although the tumor was inoperable, her team -- including James Metz, MD, Chair, Radiation Oncology, and Paul Wissel, MD, her chemotherapy oncologist -- never gave up on her. Working together, they identified an innovative new clinical trial, available only at Penn, which could help to reduce Bonnie’s tumor so they would be able to surgically remove it.
"Penn Medicine is always coming out with extraordinary clinical trials, and I fit the criteria for this new one – I was so lucky!” she says.
At 59 years old, Bonnie had youth on her side. She also had no prior history of cancer, and she’d always led a healthy lifestyle.
But, according to many of her physicians and nurses, her outright “spunk” is what made her a great candidate for what would be a laborious several months of chemotherapy followed by a month straight of radiation treatments.
They all say she was very eager to participate in any trial that might offer her a better chance of surviving her cancer. Fortunately, Penn had a clinical trial open which involved the use of a relatively new combination of chemotherapy followed by radiation therapy.
For the next four months, Bonnie sat in the chemotherapy chair every week for two hours. Next, she received five-minute radiation treatments every day for 30 days straight. After she finished her treatment, she had another CT scan to check her tumor. The news was excellent.
“My husband and I couldn’t get to the Abramson Cancer Center fast enough!" Bonnie remembers. "My surgeon was almost dancing, he said: 'Guess what, you’re my wonder patient. It worked.'”
Bonnie had a tremendous tumor response; the tumor shrank by more than 50 percent, and it moved away from the blood vessels.
The team was able to do the surgery. In fact, when the pathologists looked at the tumor under the microscope, 85 percent of it was dead – there was almost no live tumor left.
After her surgery, Bonnie was out of the hospital in six days. Her cancer team came to see her every single day.
“If you are diagnosed with a terrible, frightening cancer, and you want to survive, you have to go to Penn Medicine," she says. "You will feel so confident that your life is in their hands, because they don’t just treat your cancer, they treat you as a person.”
Hear Bonnie tell her story in her own words, or make an appointment with a cancer specialists at the Abramson Cancer Center.