Survivor Stories
April 19, 2023 • 4 Min

Two-Year Survivor and Going Strong

Susan Hoopengarner

pancreatic cancer patient Susan Hoopengarner and her husband.
  • Abdominal pain leads to diagnosis
  • Lost a sister to pancreatic cancer
  • Genetic testing does not find any mutations
  • Chemo, Whipple surgery, and chemoradiation

It was April 2021. I was 68 years old at the time and things didn’t seem right.

I had severe pain in my abdomen and had observed floating white stools when I used the bathroom. I went to my local hospital and the doctors there thought I had gallstones. But they didn’t have a surgeon who could help me so I was transferred by ambulance to a hospital in Wenatchee two hours from my home in Benton City, Washington.

There, I underwent an endoscopy and the pancreatic cancer was found. I was alone, because my husband was undergoing chemo for his own cancer, and so was stuck at home. I underwent more tests, and had a port put in. Then I was sent home.

Treatment from Every Angle

When I got home, we called Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA—now the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center). My husband had cancer surgery there a few months prior. We found SCCA to be an excellent place for care and discussions. We put together a treatment plan that included an initial cycle of chemo, followed by a Whipple surgery, and then a combined course of chemo and radiation after that. The chemo treatment would be done locally at the Kadlec Clinic for Hematology and Oncology, near my home. Between the two facilities, I had a comprehensive team of doctors and surgeons that treated my cancer from every angle.

I had lost my sister to pancreatic cancer a few years prior to me getting sick. I underwent genetic testing, but no mutations were found.

Also, at the time of my diagnosis my husband was having health problems. He had what he thought was a pinched nerve but turned out to be a bad response to his chemo. He had to be hospitalized. It was a very stressful time for us.

Treatment Plan in Action

I began working with oncologist Dr. Basir Haque and his nurse practitioner Karen DuBois at Kadlec. I was on a heavy chemo regimen. For each treatment I spent eight hours in the clinic and then went home with a chemo pack that I wore for the next 48 hours. After that I went to Kadlec to have the chemo pack removed. I had this treatment for most of the summer of 2021. Unfortunately I spent a lot of that time in the hospital, due to side effects from the treatment, such as diverticulitis.

Finally, in September I went to the University of Washington (the partner of SCCA) for my Whipple procedure with Dr. Jonathan Sham. I was supposed to be in the hospital for a week but I ended up there for a month because my recovery was so slow. I had a lot of liquid draining from my abdomen. My doctor said that the only thing keeping me alive at that point was Boost drinks, because I couldn’t tolerate anything else. At the same time in Seattle, my husband got sick and ended up in the VA hospital there.

The surgeons couldn’t get clear margins on my tumor during the Whipple procedure, which meant some of the tumor may have been left behind. So it was very important that I have chemo and radiation when I got home. In November and December I had the treatment at Kadlec with radiation oncologist Dr. Sherry Zhao. I completed the treatment in January of 2022.

Looking Ahead Positively

Overall, I am so grateful for the treatment and care I have been given. The doctors coordinated and collaborated well with each other to provide the best treatments possible.

It’s been two years since my diagnosis and my scans show no signs of cancer in my body. I was told by my team that my cancer will eventually come back, but I’m doing quite well right now. Indeed, my markers have gone up but still no cancer has been found. I am in a study that my nurse practitioner is coordinating, following my blood levels regularly. I have been told that this is to find the cancer before it grows more.

Overall, it’s been quite a journey.