Pancreatic Cancer Can Mimic Other Health Problems

Pancreatic Cancer Survivor Cindy Lopez

•    Chemotherapy with FOLFIRINOX
•    Succcessful radiation treatment leads to surgery to remove tumor
•    Follow-up with more FOLFIRINOX

My name is Cynthia “Cindy” Lopez, age 51. I live in Pine Island on the southwest coast of Florida.

I started having lower back pain in 2014 and visited my chiropractor frequently without any relief. In April 2015, I started having symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, which I had in my late 20s.

Pancreatic Cancer Causes Back Pain

I went to my primary care physician on April 29, 2015 and told him of my back pain and the IBS symptoms. He ordered an MRI of my back and an ultrasound of my intestines. I did the ultrasound that day and 10 minutes after leaving the imaging office I received a phone call from my primary care doctor telling me I had a tumor on my pancreas. So, the MRI of my back was put on hold and an MRI on my pancreas was done within two days.

The tumor was on the back of my pancreas, mid-body, which probably caused the back pain sooner in my case. I had an endoscopic biopsy the first day of May, confirming the diagnosis.  The stage of diagnosis was probably III, as we did not know if it had spread to the lymph nodes at that time, but it encompassed the portal vein and the spleen was compromised. I met with a local oncologist, Dr. Frank Rodriguez of Florida Cancer Specialists, and he referred me to Dr. Pamela Hodul at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa and to Dr. Joe Levi of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami.

Chemotherapy and Radiation Lead to Surgery

I met with Dr. Hodul and her team and they recommended gemcitabine and radiation to shrink the tumor. My local oncologist suggested the FOLFIRINOX drug regimen. I met with Dr. Levi in Miami to get another opinion and he suggested FOLFIRINOX. My decision was to go with Dr. Hodul, and she agreed to go with FOLFIRINOX for six treatments every other week followed by five days of radiation. Treatments started on June 2 at my local oncologist’s office and I came through the chemotherapy remarkably well. The first week of August, I went to Moffitt for five days to have the radiation.

Our goal for radiation was to shrink the tumor enough for my surgeon to attempt surgery. Surgery was on September 29 at Moffitt and the procedure to remove the tumor and the spleen went very well. There were 13 lymph nodes removed and one was positive for cancer. After six weeks of recovery, it was decided that I should do six more treatments of FOLFIRINOX, which started on November 19 and finished in January of this year.

The follow-up chemo was harder than the rounds before surgery. I am now cancer-free and will have scans every three months for the next three years. My second CT scan is scheduled for June 2.

Feeling Better After Treatment

I have neuropathy in my feet which is improving substantially. The neuropathy in my hands is completely gone. Although my nail beds were in bad condition they have grown out to be healthy again. My taste buds have recovered and I have gained back eight pounds of the 34 I lost throughout the complete process.

My insurance covered my treatments so I did not have to worry about the financial aspect of this journey. I am not aware if genetic testing has been done on the tumor.

I am grateful for each day and truly blessed to be able to share this story with you.

Thank you for all the Lustgarten Foundation does to raise awareness and funding for this disease.

Cindy passed away three years after her diagnosis. We offer our deepest sympathy to her family, and appreciate her willingness to share her story.