Survivor Stories
November 15, 2023 • 2 Min

A Long Slog to Diagnosis, A Quick Sprint to Surgery

Joseph Mele

Pancreatic cancer patient Joseph Mele
  • Twelve months of digestive problems leads to diagnosis
  • Stage II pancreatic cancer
  • Whipple surgery
  • Neuropathy from chemo

It took a full year for me to get a diagnosis.

That’s twelve months of GI symptoms, bloating, weakness, listlessness, and loss of appetite. My doctor, Jon Ernstoff at Midstate Medical Center, Hartford HealthCare, in Meriden, Connecticut, ordered an ultrasound, an X-ray, CTs, an MRI, an emptying study, an endoscopy, and a colonoscopy. I even had my gallbladder removed, but it didn’t resolve the problem. Part of the difficulty for me was that I had only one functioning kidney due to a previous occurrence of kidney cancer. This made it impossible for me to have contrast scans of my internal organs because of the risk of kidney complications from the contrast dye. But we didn’t give up.

Finally a Diagnosis  

Dr. Ernstoff referred me to another gastroenterologist, Dr. Michael Karasik, also at Hartford HealthCare, whose 3D endoscopic ultrasound revealed a tumor at the head of my pancreas that was wrapped around my duodenum. Finally, I had a diagnosis: stage II pancreatic cancer. It was June 2017 and I was 66 years old at the time.

And then Surgery

By then my body was exceedingly malnourished, so I was admitted to Hartford Hospital immediately after my diagnosis to build up enough strength to have surgery. I spent those days connected to feeding tubes and IVs. Eight days later, my surgeon, Dr. David Curtis, performed a Whipple procedure, which removed the head of my pancreas, duodenum, my bile duct, and, of course, the tumor itself. Normally he would have removed my gallbladder, too, but I had already had that removed.

After the surgery, I began chemotherapy and radiation treatment under the care of Dr, Gary Tansino, who has since retired. I am now seeing Dr. Uday Lele. I had severe neuropathy from the chemo, but it got better as time passed. To this day I still take medication to help with the neuropathy and it is tolerable.

It’s been six years since my surgery and I’ve been living a great life.

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