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A Will to Live Well: Sarah Sedlak's Story Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer patient Sarah Sedlak shown embracing her mother.

Sarah Sedlak just wants “a decent quality of life.” After being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at age 40, she turned to her sister, an oncology nurse, for support and advice. The advice brought her to the Abramson Cancer Center.

As she came to terms with her prognosis, Sarah found comfort in these words from her oncologist, Kim A. Reiss Binder, MD: “You aren’t a milk carton. You don’t have an expiration date.” Sarah started on the standard first-line treatment of combination chemotherapy. The side effects were harsh, but, a year and a half in, Sarah was still able to manage them and doctors continued to see either shrinkage or stability in all tumors.

After 29 treatments, Dr. Reiss Binder told Sarah about a new study she was leading that combines a targeted therapy with immunotherapy. The goal is to find a more tolerable maintenance treatment for metastatic pancreatic patients. The emphasis on quality of life was a welcome change from the more dire messages Sarah and others with pancreas cancer often hear.

While generally supportive, Sarah’s family worried about her decision to sign up as the first patient on the trial. Yet, Sarah was determined to give it a try. “When I signed the paperwork for the trial, I thought I might have some regrets or worries. But I didn’t. I was quite at peace with my decision.” 

Six months into the trial, Sarah is grateful to feel “somewhat normal” again. She can move better and needs less rest.  “Even if the trial stopped working tomorrow, being able to, just for a moment, forget that I have cancer, is a blessing beyond words,” reflects Sarah.

When she’s not at the Abramson Cancer Center (her ‘second home’), Sarah enjoys spending time with her husband and large extended family, especially her 12 nieces and nephews. She appreciates that the doctors and staff at Penn “treat her like a person and not a lost cause.”  She also relies on the palliative team at Penn Medicine’s Lancaster General Health for support and treatment planning. “My team is great. Knowing them ahead of time makes me feel much more secure that, when their services are necessary, I will have confidence in their recommendations.” 

Sarah now has her sights set on a very important goal — being an aunt to her 13th niece/nephew who, appropriately, was born around Thanksgiving.