MedWatch Today: Pancreatic cancer patient gets whole pancreas removed to survive

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A mystery diagnosis consumed the life of Turlock resident Gina Boyd for years. She didn’t know what was wrong with her, despite experiencing extreme gastrointestinal pain. She finally saw doctors at Community Regional Medical Center who helped her down a road toward recovery.

This is not the first doctor Gina Boyd has seen over the years to help her figure out her health mystery. Dr. Amir Fathi is the Director of Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Surgery at Community Regional Medical Center. He was the eighth doctor Gina saw – and he was the last.

“In talking to a nurse, you know she says, you know you really need to pursue pushing a doctor to look further into that. That’s not normal,” commented Gina.

What Gina quickly learned was, her symptoms were far from normal. Since 2012, Gina felt extreme gastrointestinal pain. On a daily basis, after eating food, she said her abdomen would burn or she would get sick.

Dr. Fathi said, “Her quality of life was declining. She was losing weight, she didn’t have any energy, she was getting depressed, she was not feeling well and she kept seeing multiple doctors.”

Dr. Fathi took a deep look at her pancreas, he stated, “I looked at her CT scan and MRI and I saw that the pancreas is really, really abnormal, basically the entirety of the pancreas was replaced with different sized cysts and masses and the main pancreatic duct the tube was blocked.”

That meant Gina’s pancreas was depriving her of necessary enzymes, so she couldn’t break down any food. The pancreas is also crucial because it produces insulin to control a person’s blood sugar. Gina was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and she was going to have to live without her pancreas.

“My first question is, how does a person live without a pancreas? Because up until all this happened, you just assume you can’t live without one,” Gina said.

Dr. Fathi added, “We had to take the entire gland out in order to eliminate the entire risk of cancer or get the patient in better situation.”

Since Gina is living without a pancreas, she is now a type one diabetic. She has a port and a little device stays with her constantly to give her insulin to control her blood sugar. Six months after Gina’s pancreas was removed, Dr. Fathi found masses on her ovaries. The cancer had spread, and she had to undergo a hysterectomy and an oophorectomy.

“With the help of our OBGYN doctors, we went in there, we took her ovaries and uterus out, and unfortunately we realized this was a recurrence of her pancreatic cancer,” stated Dr. Fathi.

Dr. Fathi explains, there was a team of doctors to help Gina during this stressful time.

He said, “One of the goals that I had in this program when I started over here is, was and is, to build mutlidisciplinary care for our patients.”

Gina said she was grateful to work with a team of varied doctors from multiple disciplines.

“My husband and I were just like, you know, we trust you guys, you know? So, it was really good,” commented Gina.

Today, Gina continues to fight against her health struggles. Dr. Fathi said there is no new detection of cancer in her body. Both she and Dr. Fathi suggest people should always be their own health advocate.

Dr. Fathi said, “Listen to your body. If your body is constantly telling you there’s something wrong, if you see you’re falling off of a normal wagon, you’re not doing the stuff that you used to do.”

“You have to be aggressive as far as saying, ‘Hey, I don’t feel right, something’s wrong’, and do your research. I did a lot of research on my own,” ended Gina.

Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer often don’t occur until the disease is advanced. They may include: pain in the upper abdomen, blood clots, fatigue, loss of appetite or unintended weight loss, and yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes.

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