Survivor Stories
February 1, 2017 • 2 Min

A Pancreatic Vaccine Clinical Trial Worked for Me

Kathleen Dowell

Pancreatic cancer survivor Kathleen Dowell and her doctors
  • Whipple procedure to remove tumor
  • Chemotherapy and radiation after surgery
  • Clinical trial with a pancreatic cancer vaccine

My pancreatic cancer was found by accident in 1997, when I developed itching all over.

My doctor suspected a gallstone, so we scheduled gallbladder removal surgery at the local hospital. A complication from the gallbladder surgery meant I needed a second surgery, and that surgeon found pancreatic cancer.

My Treatment Begins

My doctor recommended that I go to Johns Hopkins for treatment, because doctors there had more experience with pancreatic cancer. Surgeon John Cameron removed my pancreas, part of my stomach, and several lymph nodes in a Whipple procedure; the lymph nodes tested positive for cancer.

I began chemotherapy with mitomycin-C, leucovorin, and a third drug, as well as radiation as soon as I recovered from surgery. I didn’t know much about pancreatic cancer but I had a bad feeling and was worried. Dr. Ross Donehower approached me with information about a pancreatic cancer vaccine clinical trial. I wanted to see my first grandchild grow up, so I decided to take a chance on the clinical trial run by Dr. Elizabeth Jaffee.

A Pancreatic Cancer Vaccine Trial

I joined the trial but soon developed a condition called TTP (thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura) which causes small blood clots throughout the body. My doctors did not think the pancreas vaccine cause the TTP but I had seizures and a stroke, so I was no longer able to be part of the clinical trial.

As it turned out those two doses were all I needed. I remain cancer-free, I enjoy my life and I have gotten to see my grandchildren grow up.

I want to read stories about other patients.

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