Rose Donovan’s Story

Rose Donovan had not been feeling well for weeks. The 52-year-old Maple Ridge woman was dealing with headaches, nausea, hot flashes, and then a pain on her upper right side. She suspected stress as the cause, but her family doctor sent her for a gallbladder ultrasound. The test result was blindsiding – there was a golf ball-sized mass on her pancreas.

“You hear that cancer word and it’s like, ‘Oh my God! What does this mean?’” says Rose. “Being a sole parent, it was a hard time.”

Pancreatic cancer has a reputation for having a high mortality rate. Rose had a three-centimetre neuroendocrine tumour, a rarer form and slower-growing than the more aggressive adenocarcinoma. As a comparison, actor Patrick Swayze died of pancreatic adenocarcinoma. Rose’s case was comparable to the type that afflicted business innovator Steve Jobs.

“I honestly spent the first three days feeling sorry for myself,” says Rose. “I cried a lot in private. Then I shook myself out of it, because it wasn’t going to help anybody if I couldn’t stay together.”

Since Royal Columbian Hospital performs the health region’s complex pancreas and liver surgeries, Rose was referred to Hepato-Pancreatico-Biliary (HPB) surgeon Dr. Shawn MacKenzie.

“Neuroendocrine tumours are easier to handle than adenocarcinoma,” explains Dr. MacKenzie. “They are less likely to spread, and there are potential treatments we can do if it has spread. We have a better chance to cure.”

Rose was scheduled for a complex surgical procedure known as a Whipple to remove the head of the pancreas, part of the small intestine, the gallbladder and the bile duct. Reassured by Dr. MacKenzie and supported by her family and friends, Rose headed into the surgery with optimism.

“I have always been a positive thinker,” she says. “But you have to push aside any possibility of anything being different than the outcome you want. And that’s what I did.”

The surgery was considered a success, and Rose stayed in hospital for just over a week. A year and a half later, she considers herself a “walking miracle” who is staying focused on the positives even while managing inconvenient side-effects like low energy and gastrointestinal issues. She is also at a higher risk of developing diabetes and will need to be monitored for the rest of her life in case the tumour recurs.

“Dr. MacKenzie is my subject matter expert,’ she says. “I felt he was very upfront and honest about what to expect. I feel very comfortable with him and trust him. For me, everything happens as it should.”

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