Early surgery helping people survive pancreatic cancer

Published: November 8, 2021 8:17 PM EST
Updated: February 9, 2022 3:59 PM EST

Pancreatic cancer has a nasty reputation. It is hard to detect in patients and is naturally aggressive.

However, doctors can still make strides, and even more, people are beating the odds.

Frank Barreiro says he could tell something was off. “I knew. I know, my body. And I knew something was drastically wrong,” Barreiro said.

But, at 47years old, pancreatic cancer was the furthest thing from his mind. Barreiro is a husband, father, teacher, and sportsman. He simply had too much left to live for.

“Of course, you’d go straight to ‘that’s it.’ I thought that was the end for me,” Barreiro said.

Luckily for him, that was just the beginning. Barreiro and his doctors were able to catch his cancer before it spread. This made him a good candidate for surgery. This surgery can only be performed if the cancer is caught early on.

Dr. Mark Bloomston is a surgical oncologist. “The operation for that is known as a Whipple operation. It’s arguably one of the most complicated operations we do in the abdomen. It involves taking out about a third of the pancreas, the first foot of intestine, usually a couple [of] inches of the stomach, the bile duct, which is about six inches in length, and the gallbladder, if they still have one,” Dr. Bloomston said. “So it’s a very complicated operation. We use the intestine to put everything back together so they can go back to digesting normally.”

The surgery helped Barreiro’s mindset. “After that, I never really thought I was gonna die,” he said. “I believed that I was going to make it. I believed that. I had a young daughter. She was graduating high school.”

That was five and a half years ago. Now, Barreiro has been firmly put into the survivor category as far as pancreatic cancer is concerned. “By and large, if you make it to the five-year mark, with this type of cancer, you’re probably cured. And so, we expect those patients to have a normal life expectancy and have… they’re subjected to the normal diseases that aging patients have,” he said.

Barreiro’s story is one that’s becoming more common. Dr. Bloomston keeps a “wall of fame” for his pancreatic cancer superstars that are living and thriving. “Just because you’re handed that diagnosis is not a guarantee that you’re going to die from that cancer,” said Dr. Bloomston.

Frank Barreiro is living proof of this. “I’m fishing. I’m weightlifting. I’m golfing. I’m doing everything I did before. I’m the same way that was before. Life has just fallen right back into place but with a rosier look. So, it’s kind of people [who] don’t understand when I say it, but it’s better. It’s better now than it was before. I appreciate everything just a little bit more,” said Barreiro.

Again, the surgery Barreiro benefitted from is available if the cancer is caught early on. However, several advanced treatment options are being used in advanced cases.