Topics in This Section
- Ampullary Cancer
- Anorectal Cancer
- Anal Canal Carcinoma
- Carcinoid Cancer
- Colon Cancer
- Esophageal Cancer
- Gallbladder Cancer
- Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST)
- Liver Cancer (Bile Duct Cancer)
- Neuroendocrine Carcinoma
- Neuroendocrine Cancer of the Spleen
- Sister Mary Joseph's Lymph Node
- Small Bowel Cancer
- Stomach (Gastric) Cancer
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When it comes to her health, Maria Mora has always taken a proactive approach. After her mother died of ovarian cancer, she went through genetic testing and based on the results, she opted to undergo a prophylactic oophrectomy (surgical removal of the ovaries) to prevent the same diagnosis. Maria takes care of herself, eats right and exercises. So when she started experiencing bouts of indigestion serious enough to send her to the ER in January 2010, Maria knew something was up. While others might have tried to control their symptoms with Mylanta, Maria, who was 47, saw a gastroenterologist, who ordered an endoscopy.
"The doctor called me a week later and I almost fell off my chair," she recalled. He explained that Maria had ampullary carcinoma, a malignancy at the opening of her bile duct. "The doctor said I'd need a Whipple procedure, and to start interviewing surgeons."
"I interviewed other doctors, but when I met Dr. Hoffman at Fox Chase, I just knew he was the one."
On a friend's recommendation, she called Fox Chase Cancer Center and got an appointment with surgical oncologist John Hoffman, MD, FACS, one of the nation's most experienced surgeons in the Whipple procedure. "I interviewed other doctors, but when I met Dr. Hoffman at Fox Chase, I just knew he was the one," she said. "I liked his credentials, and he's done more than one thousand Whipple procedures. He had a competence and a sense of assurance that made me feel I was in good hands." The Whipple procedure involves removing the head of the pancreas, some of the small intestine and the gallbladder (if it hasn't already been removed). Dr. Hoffman then reconstructs the digestive tract to preserve function.
Maria was scheduled for surgery in late March. During pre-admission testing, Dr. Hoffman came in to talk to her and her husband, taking them through the procedure step-by-step and answering all their questions. Although the Whipple is a major procedure, Maria knew if she was going to have a fighting chance, she needed the surgery as quick as possible in order to put the cancer behind her.
"Everybody at Fox Chase was so supportive and caring."
In typical self-described "Maria" style, she took her recovery in her own hands, forcing herself to walk and work through the recuperation with steely determination. "I couldn't leave the hospital until my body completed specific functions, so I kept walking. I knew what I had to do. Everybody at Fox Chase was so supportive and caring." She was still in the hospital when Dr. Hoffman popped his head in with good news. "My cancer was encapsulated. It wasn't in my lymph nodes," she said. "I was going to be fine."
Maria was home in a week, intent on regaining her strength. "Every day, I'd take another step, make a little progress," she said. In three months, Maria was back to work part time as a legal assistant and paralegal. "I was so anxious to get back to my normal life, but in hindsight, I should have taken more time," she said. "I'm either crazy or strong - or maybe a little bit of both." More than a year later, she's back to walking two miles a day, watches what she eats and takes her digestive enzymes religiously.
"I'm so lucky. God bless Dr. Hoffman and the nurses at Fox Chase."
"I'm so lucky. God bless Dr. Hoffman and the nurses at Fox Chase," she said. "Now, I'm just trying to live my life to the fullest every day. Through this whole thing, I felt divine intervention. I was carried through somehow, and I'm so grateful."