Louise Buttaro: Prevailing Over Pancreatic Cancer

“My nurse helped me remember: I am strong. I am healthy. And I have one of the best surgeons on the East Coast.”
‐Louise Buttaro

I’m 75 years old, which is pretty amazing when it comes to surviving pancreatic cancer, especially since I was diagnosed when I was 53.

Initially, when I went in with abdominal pain and trouble eating, my doctor treated me for an ulcer because I didn’t fit the profile for someone with cancer — there was no history of cancer in my family, and I was in good physical shape.

One day, I went to breakfast with my best friend who was a nurse, and when she saw my difficulty eating and I told her where the pain was, she said, “That’s not an ulcer. You go back to that doctor and insist on getting further testing.”

I followed her advice, and my doctor ordered a CAT scan at a nearby hospital. I’d barely arrived home from the scan when the doctor’s office called. That was a bad sign. The doctor told me I had a large mass on my pancreas, encapsulated in a very large cyst.

The next day, I spoke with a local surgeon. “It’s not so bad to die. It’s the people who are left behind who are more affected,” she told me. She even gave me a cassette tape about preparing for hospice, but also said she’d do some research, find the best doctor, and get me in to see them. That doctor was John Hoffman, a highly respected surgical oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center who is now retired.

Booking With a Top Surgeon

At our first appointment, Dr. Hoffman got straight to the point. After looking at my CAT scan, he confirmed that I had pancreatic cancer and was honest with me about how bad my situation was. However, he was also confident in his own abilities and told his assistant to schedule me for surgery the following Tuesday. It was the earliest he could fit me into his schedule, and I think he even had to rearrange some things to make that happen.

I checked in to the hospital the following Monday, the day before my surgery. A nurse named Mary was assigned to me, and she was as sweet as could be. I was very afraid. I knew I was having very serious surgery the next day.

But Mary helped me keep a positive attitude about it all. She made sure I could always see the pictures of my two granddaughters on my bedside table. She also helped me remember: I am strong. I am healthy. And I have one of the best surgeons on the East Coast.

A Miraculous Result

My surgery lasted six hours. The cancer was so extensive that Dr. Hoffman had to cut from the middle of my breastbone all the way down to my pubic bone. When I woke up in the recovery room, my sister was there with my husband and my two younger sons. Everybody was crying. We couldn’t believe it: I was alive.

Six or seven days after the surgery, Dr. Hoffman came in to see me. For the first time since I’d started seeing him, he was smiling. He told me the test results for the margins — tissue they’d taken out around the edges of the tumor — were back, and they were clear. Several weeks later, an MRI confirmed it: They’d gotten all the cancer out of me. Now I just had to recover.

Two More Decades of Life (and Counting)

Because of how extensive the surgery was, the recovery was extremely difficult. I stayed in the hospital for one week, and I was on morphine the whole time. Then I was discharged to my sister’s home, where I stayed for a few more weeks so she could help take care of me. It took me months of hard work and patience until I could walk normally and drive again, but it was all worth it because 22 years later, I’m still here.

Today I go to Fox Chase for MRIs once a year to make sure everything is okay. When he retired, Dr. Hoffman chose a skilled surgeon who he had trained to see me. Surgical oncologist Dr. Sanjay S. Reddy is wonderful. He’s an incredibly positive person and treats everyone kindly. Plus, he has a great reputation at Fox Chase: He’s an outstanding surgeon, and he’s doing very high-quality research. I look forward to seeing him each year.

Because of Dr. Hoffman, Dr. Reddy, and Fox Chase, I got to see my two “little” granddaughters graduate from college. I’ve also had the chance to meet and know my two other grandchildren, who were born after my surgery and are now 10. I wouldn’t have had these opportunities if not for all the wonderful people at Fox Chase.

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