Gayle Delemarre: Finding an Experienced Surgeon After a Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis

“I felt a lot better after talking to Dr. Reddy because he gave me hope. I thought, ‘OK, I’m in good hands now.’”
‐Gayle Delemarre

I’m a naturally optimistic person, and I really believe having a positive attitude matters. But that belief was put to the test in 2022 when, at 57 years old, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

I initially went to my doctor because of pain in my side. My bloodwork came back all out of whack. Soon after, I developed jaundice and turned bright yellow. My husband took me to the emergency room at my local hospital, and a CT scan showed a tumor on the head of my pancreas. The doctors told me it looked bad.

They admitted me to the hospital and put in a stent to open my bile ducts. I wasn’t yellow anymore, but I was scared to death. I was lying in my hospital bed thinking, “This is it. I’m dying now.”

An Experienced Surgeon

After coming home, I saw an oncologist near my home, which is about two hours north of Philadelphia. He said I was lucky, because we had caught the cancer early. He recommended four months of intense chemotherapy followed by radiation, then surgery.

Because my cancer was at an earlier stage, he said I was eligible for something called a Whipple procedure, which is a major surgery. The hospital said they had a surgeon who could do the procedure locally, but I wasn’t sure. I went back and talked to my family doctor, and he strongly recommended I go to a surgeon in a major city who frequently performs Whipple procedures. I did some research, and that’s how I decided on Dr. Sanjay Reddy, a surgical oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

“Bring It On”

The first time I met with Dr. Reddy, he was just so professional, so thorough. I thought, “OK, I’m in good hands now.” He explained my condition in detail and walked me through the surgery. I felt a lot better after talking to him, because he gave me hope.

But he did explain that the Whipple procedure was major surgery. They open up your entire abdomen and remove the head of the pancreas, bile duct, gallbladder, and part of the small intestine. It was scary, but I knew this was my best chance to live. “OK. Bring it on,” I said.

Meanwhile, I went ahead with chemotherapy at my local cancer center. I’m not going to sugarcoat it — it was horrible. For four months I had a metallic taste in my mouth, and all I could keep down was chicken broth, oatmeal, and gummy bears. I was in and out of the hospital for dehydration, and my white blood count kept getting too low. But I got through it.

After that came the radiation, five treatments over two weeks. That wasn’t as bad as the chemo, but it did make me extremely fatigued. I was tired before I even got out of bed. Finally, I was done with treatment and they gave my body about a month to recover before surgery.

A Major Surgery

My husband and I drove two hours from our farm to Fox Chase for the surgery. The procedure lasted around eight hours, and when I woke up I went to intensive care for the first two days of recovery.

For the six days I was in the hospital, Dr. Reddy came to check on me every morning and afternoon. That blew me away. And it wasn’t just him. Everybody at Fox Chase was so caring and professional. It didn’t matter if it was a nurse, physician assistant, or even the person who moves you from point A to point B. I’m especially grateful to Kristen Cahill, a nurse who really went above and beyond for me.

The best news was when Dr. Reddy told me, “We got it all.” He said my bloodwork was awesome. I was on cloud nine! But then he said he wanted me to go back for one more round of chemo. I wanted to cry — chemo was so brutal.

“I just want to sprinkle a little pixie dust over everything to make sure if there’s anything left over it doesn’t come back,” Dr. Reddy said. I couldn’t argue with that. Fortunately, this was a shorter round of chemo. I only ended up going in for three infusions, and each time I had to take a pill at home afterwards. It was still tough, but I got through it.

Counting Down to Remission

With pancreatic cancer, it’s said that you have to go five years after treatment before you’re considered to be in remission. At 59, I’ve made it a year and three months, and they say that with every year your risk of recurrence goes down.

I’m praying. I’m also going in for CT scans every three months, getting regular bloodwork, and seeing Dr. Reddy for regular checkups. And, I quit smoking and drinking. I have a feeling that’s what caused my cancer, because cancer doesn’t run in my family. I smoked for most of my life, which is ironic because I worked as a nurse’s aide. I’m one of those people who always took care of everyone but myself.

Now, I truly appreciate my life and thank God for every day. I enjoy working on our farm, taking care of our chickens, and growing vegetables in our big garden. I’m so grateful that we caught my cancer early, and I’m especially grateful for the excellent care I received at Fox Chase.

Learn more about treatment for pancreatic cancer at Fox Chase Cancer Center.