Survivor Stories
November 1, 2021 • 4 Min

Choosing the Right Doctor

Rita Krueger

pancreatic cancer patient Rita Krueger, her husband and dog
  • Itching skin leads to a pancreatic cancer diagnosis
  • Changing doctors after a second opinion
  • Seemingly ineffective treatment has surprising results

In early February of 2018, my skin started itching.

I set up an appointment with my primary doctor and from there things escalated. From the initial blood tests, the doctor reported that my pancreas wasn’t producing enough insulin, I was diabetic, and my liver tests were abnormal. I was in disbelief. At that time, I was involved in an exercise and eating program. I averaged doing cardio three times a week, preparing all my food from scratch, and eating a low- to no-refined-sugar diet. My parents, ten siblings, and known generations did not include any diabetics.

By the end of February, I had an ultrasound, an MRI, and a CT scan of my gastrointestinal area, which confirmed a tumor in my pancreas. An endoscopy procedure had also been performed to biopsy the tumor, along with a separate procedure to insert a stent in my bile duct to open the blocked pathway to my pancreas. This was the cause of my itching skin. Was this a blessing in disguise?

On March 1, 2018, at 53, I was diagnosed with late stage I/early stage II pancreatic adenocarcinoma.

A Second Opinion and Changing Doctors to Survive

Up until this point I was working with doctors locally. Prior to my biopsy, the local oncologist assumed the tumor was malignant and then, a strange turn of events caused me to meet with my assigned surgeon before the oncologist. It was at this appointment that I was told to get my affairs in order. Tears were flowing. He left the room and 20 minutes later returned speaking of the potential for performing a Whipple procedure immediately with chemotherapy following. I was in shock. I had never had surgery for anything.

My husband convinced me to get a second opinion from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. I was relieved when I was accepted as a patient. They had a better therapy option than my then current medical team. By God’s grace I ended up with Dr. Mark J. Truty, M.D., as my surgeon. Since then, we were told by multiple medical professionals that he is considered the best at what he does, taking on complex surgeries others wouldn’t attempt. I believe the care of Dr. Truty and his team along with my faith in God were critical to my outstanding outcome.

Chemotherapy that Seems Ineffective Produces a Surprise

Prior to starting chemotherapy, I completed independent research and consultation with a nutritionist, which led me to fast from food 36 hours before each intravenous chemo. I resumed eating 20 hours post chemo. I experienced above average physical resilience after chemo and did not experience nausea.

My first chemo regimen was two months of FOLFIRINOX. Each round was a five-hour treatment every other week, in addition to a low-dose chemo administered for 48 hours via a portable chemo pump attached to my port. My side effects from this regimen included slower thinking, fatigue, and being extremely sensitive to cold through touch, taste, and breathing.

A tumor marker blood test, PET/MRI, and a CT scan were completed two weeks after each therapy. After two round the tests showed no change.

I was put on a second chemo regimen of gemcitabine and paclitaxel. Several months later, tests showed no evidence of a response. Mid-August, my five weeks of radiation started. This included taking a chemo pill of capecitabine.

Throughout therapy my tumor never appeared to shrink, and it seemed that the odds were not in my favor for a successful surgery. However, I had confidence in Dr. Truty throughout our discussions. That, coupled with my faith in God, gave me confidence for miraculous healing, which caused me to move forward with surgery.

My surgery was a 10-hour procedure on October 23, 2018. Dr. Truty took out my pancreas, duodenum, spleen, and left adrenal gland. Several blood vessels involved in the tumor mass were also removed and reconstructed. Two days after the surgery, the pathology report showed stunning results. There was no cancer left in my tumor.

My Second Chance

Throughout our journey together, Dr. Truty made no guarantees and told me that I may have two years of life. I have now surpassed three years since my diagnosis and there has been no sign of cancer since surgery. My oncology RN calls me an outlier. I really feel grateful that I’ve been given a second chance. I don’t think I would be alive today if I hadn’t gone to Mayo. Dr. Truty is a remarkable man and an innovative doctor who pushes the envelope. He and his team have given me a chance to be more intentional about how I live my life.

In the Fall of 2021, I started strength training with a personal trainer at a local gym, which is helping me build back muscle that was lost throughout therapies and the slow physical recovery from surgery. I believe this is helping me mentally, physically, and emotionally recover from the trauma of this medical event.

I have a blog where I give more information about my treatment. If you want to know more about me, I am also active on Facebook.