Ronald Schnell

Pancreatic Cancer Patient Stories

In October 2005, Ronald Schnell's wife couldn't take it anymore. Her husband was jaundiced, lost weight without effort and had other digestive issues. "Ronald had just retired and we had a lot to look forward to," said Catherine, who was very concerned something was seriously wrong. It was.

Ronald made an appointment with a gastroenterologist in his community. After a series of tests and no diagnosis, Ronald's doctor referred the Schnells to Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia to meet Jeffrey Tokar, MD.

Dr. Tokar, a gastroenterologist with specialized training in advanced endoscopic procedures, was able to diagnose Ronald with an uncommon form of pancreatic cancer. He discovered a complex tumor that was located essentially throughout Ronald's pancreas. A biopsy at both ends of the pancreas confirmed it was cancerous throughout.

"I felt completely confident Dr. Watson would do his best to cure me."

Ronald was understandably scared to learn he had pancreatic cancer. "You don't hear many good outcomes," recalled Ronald, especially when I heard it was so large. "But after meeting my surgeon, I felt completely confident Dr. Watson would do his best to cure me."

James C. Watson, MD, an oncologic surgeon at Fox Chase, specializes in treating complex tumors of the gastrointestinal tract. Dr. Watson spent over an hour explaining the procedure, which he felt would likely be either an extended "Whipple" surgery or total pancreatectomy, and the anticipated recovery to the Schnells.

Experienced surgeons at Fox Chase perform complicated procedures, such as total pancreatectomy.

Complex surgery can be used to treat patients with pancreatic cancer. There are just a handful of surgeons in the country who are skilled at these demanding surgical procedures. In Ronald's unusual case, Dr. Watson removed the entire pancreas, some of the small intestine and the gall bladder. Next, he reconstructed Ronald's digestive tract to preserve gastrointestinal function.

After surgery, Ronald stayed in the hospital for about 10 days. "The nurses at Fox Chase were very good," said Ronald. "They were knowledgeable and always communicated with my family and me so we knew what was happening at all times."

"Dr. Burtness' compassion comes across."

After a smooth recovery, Ronald's medical oncologist, Barbara Burtness, MD, prescribed a course of chemotherapy to decrease the chance of recurrence. "Dr. Burtness' compassion comes across to her patients and you know she really cares about you," shared Ronald and his wife. "She is one of the most thorough doctors we've met."

Since finishing treatment in the summer 2006, Ronald has resumed his life in retirement. He is a talented handyman and is always available to help his friends with small jobs.

"I am extremely grateful to the talented doctors at Fox Chase who gave me a second chance."

"I am extremely grateful to the talented doctors at Fox Chase who gave me a second chance," Ronald said. "Catherine and I cherish every moment we spend with our family. They mean the world to us."

In 2010, Ronald reached the five-year mark since his diagnosis. "Thank God there is a place like Fox Chase and all its staff," he said. "Every day is a gift."