Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest and most aggressive.
Generally caught late, doctors prefer starting treatment options right away. There is a surgery using a robot that could help some pancreatic cancer patients who find themselves fighting time.
We met Jim Johnston during one of his first chemotherapy treatments at Texas Oncology in Dallas.
“This is our third week here, then we're off a week and a half then we come back and start over again," Johnston told us while a nurse was administering saline and anti-nausea medication.
Jim’s wife, Catherine, now knows the drill in the chemo room. She stays right by his side as his cheerleader.
“Yes, I've been taking care of him… for 32 years. But he's been taking care of me as well,” she said looking at her husband. “The one thing he said to me was, 'I didn't realize you love me so much.’”
Doctors discovered Jim’s pancreatic cancer in December. By January, he underwent a complicated surgery involving removal of part of his pancreas, gallbladder, bile duct, part of his stomach and small intestine.
“In effect, it's three operations in one," said Dr. Rohan Jeyarajah, oncology surgeon at Methodist Richardson Medical Center. “And that's what makes it so challenging.”
It’s called the Whipple Procedure. In this case, it was conducted entirely with a robot. Doctor Jeyarajah was at the controls. He allowed our camera inside the operating room to show us what the procedure looks like.
Instead of one big cut, Jim’s entire operation was three small incisions, which means his body was able to heal faster. He left the hospital in just four days. His scars now are barely visible.
“Not everyone is a candidate for this,” said Dr. Jeyarajah. “They need to be smaller tumors, patients need to be relatively fit because the operation does take a little bit longer… and then, motivated patients.”
Jim wanted doctors to remove his tumor quickly and efficiently. His abbreviated recovery time is allowing him to move forward with chemotherapy so he can focus on fighting pancreatic cancer.
“You don't do this totally on your own,” he said.