Andre Burke: Recovering From Pancreatic Cancer

"I often share my story and always encourage people who feel something is wrong to go to the doctor to get checked out. If you wait too long, it may be too late. I am thankful that I took that advice."
‐Andre Burke

Having worked as a train engineer for Amtrak for nearly 18 years and being a father of three active kids, I am used to eating food on-the-go. So, when I first experienced abdominal pain in January of 2019, I thought it was because I ate something that didn’t agree with me. However, the pain fluctuated, was persistent, and lingered even after a visit to my local urgent care clinic. I had never experienced that before.

It got to the point where my appetite diminished so much that I was losing five pounds a week. My wife became concerned and encouraged me to visit my doctor. Testing revealed a lesion on my pancreas and, after a visit to see a gastroenterologist, I was informed that I had pancreatic cancer.

History Repeating Itself

I was at work when I received the biopsy results over the phone, and it took a minute for my diagnosis to set in. I immediately called my wife, and she asked me to come home. It was the right move because, shortly after, my emotions set in. My father had pancreatic cancer, but he waited too long to get it treated and passed away from it. Because of this, it was important for me to see a specialist quickly. When my wife and I discussed where to go for treatment, we decided on Fox Chase.

During my first visit, I met with surgical oncologist Dr. Sanjay Reddy, who quickly won us over. He was down-to-earth and I could relate to him. I’ll never forget sitting in his office and hearing him say: “We can help you.” It was a defining moment—one where I knew I could do this. After our meeting, my fear of not making it through went away—I had hope. Dr. Reddy told me to take some time and encouraged me to gather other opinions, but I didn’t want to go anywhere else.

Further testing revealed that my pancreatic cancer was Stage III, and the tumor was the size of a baseball. Dr. Reddy and I came up with a plan that included genetic testing through the Risk Assessment Program to determine if there were markers that would make my cancer respond better to certain treatments. Soon after, I began chemotherapy and radiation treatment with Drs. Igor Astsaturov and Joshua Meyer.

Support Network

Andre celebrates the end of chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer with his family.

Within one month of receiving my diagnosis, I started biweekly chemotherapy. I was still able to go to work during that time, but I didn’t want to tell people about my diagnosis and have them treat me differently. However, I did have to tell some people at work so I could have a more flexible schedule, and word got around. I am so grateful it did, because with my colleagues and family behind me, a great support network bloomed as I started treatment at Fox Chase.

The chemotherapy was difficult, but the nurses showed me so much compassion. Something as simple as remembering my name and recognizing me every time I walked through the door made a big difference.

Two weeks after my chemotherapy began, I started radiation treatment with Dr. Joshua Meyer. By May, I had completed that course of treatment.

In October 2019, I was ready for the surgical portion of my treatment. Dr. Reddy performed a Whipple procedure, which removed part of my pancreas and small intestine. I spent a few days in the hospital before going back home to rest and recover.

Getting Back to Normal

I am now cancer-free, but I couldn’t have done it without everyone cheering me on. Throughout the process, my coworkers would check in on me and encourage me, saying: “You are going to beat this.” It kept my spirits up. My dad had always been positive throughout his journey, too, and it was important for me to be that way as well. My support system really encouraged that.

My team at Fox Chase did a phenomenal job as well. I now see Dr. Reddy every three months, and I am more focused on my health and nutrition than I was before my diagnosis.

The genetic testing I underwent also determined that my cancer was not inherited from my father—it was just a coincidence that we both developed the same thing. I am glad I had his experience in the back of my mind to motivate me as I went through my own journey.

I often share my story and always encourage people who feel something is wrong to go to the doctor to get checked out. If you wait too long, it may be too late. I am thankful that I took that advice.

Learn more about pancreatic cancer treatment at Fox Chase.