Maria Mora - Patient Story

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"I interviewed other doctors, but when I met Dr. Hoffman at Fox Chase, I just knew he was the one."

— Maria Mora

When it comes to my health, I’ve always taken a proactive approach. After my mother died of ovarian cancer at age 47, I went through genetic testing, and based on the results, I opted to undergo a prophylactic oophorectomy (surgical removal of the ovaries) to prevent the same diagnosis. I take care of myself, eat right, and exercise. So, when I started experiencing bouts of indigestion serious enough to send me to the ER in January 2010, I knew something was up.

While others might have tried to control their symptoms with Mylanta, I saw a gastroenterologist, who ordered an endoscopy. The doctor called me a week later, and I almost fell off my chair. He explained that I had ampullary carcinoma, a malignancy at the opening of my bile duct. The doctor said I’d need a Whipple procedure and to start interviewing surgeons right away.

On a friend’s recommendation, I called Fox Chase Cancer Center and got an appointment with surgical oncologist Dr. John Hoffman, 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. I liked his credentials, and he’s done more than 1,000 Whipple procedures. He had a competence and 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.

I was scheduled for surgery in late March. Not only did Dr. Hoffman come in to talk to me to go over everything the day before surgery, but he came in to see me on a Sunday! He took me and my husband through the procedure step by step and answered all our questions. Although the Whipple is a major procedure, I knew if I was going to have a fighting chance, I needed the surgery as quick as possible to put the cancer behind me.

In typical “Maria” style, I took my recovery in my own hands and forced myself 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. I was still in the hospital when Dr. Hoffman popped his head in with good news. He said my cancer was encapsulated. It wasn’t in my lymph nodes, and I was going to be fine.

I was home in a week, intent on regaining my strength. Every day, I’d take another step, make a little progress. In three months, I 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. I’m either crazy or strong—or maybe a little bit of both. Years later, I’m still walking two miles a day, weather permitting, watching what I eat, and taking my digestive enzymes with my meals as needed.

I was recently diagnosed with basal and melanoma skin cancer by a local dermatologist after I pointed out spots to him during a yearly skin check. He originally did not think the spots were a problem but suggested monitoring me. I saw him a few times in that year, and the last time I saw him, the spots had grown slightly. He suggested a biopsy, which I’m all for because I’m always proactive—that’s what saved me the first time! The dermatologist picked March 29, 2017, as the date to remove the skin cancer—the same date I had my Whipple surgery by Dr. Hoffman seven years before! I thought to myself, “A sign!” And yes, it was a good one! They removed all the cancer, and by the grace of God, I’m still cancer-free. 

I’m so lucky. I’m still 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.

Now I don’t put off until tomorrow what I can do today. I understand what real problems could be and don’t fool myself with the trivial stuff. I also learned to take care of myself because tomorrow is not promised. So, I try to go away once or twice every year to celebrate still being here! I’m truly blessed. God bless Dr. Hoffman and the nurses at Fox Chase. I will never forget how amazing they were to me.

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