Avera Medical Minute ASH: Yankton Pancreatic Cancer Survivor - KSFY News - Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

Avera Medical Minute ASH: Yankton Pancreatic Cancer Survivor

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Pancreatic cancer survivor Bob Willcockson of Yankton. Pancreatic cancer survivor Bob Willcockson of Yankton.

Most people who find out they have inoperable pancreatic cancer usually don't live long enough to celebrate their next birthday. Nancy Naeve Brown met a Yankton man who defied the odds thanks, in part, to expert cancer care at Avera Sacred Heart.

No one is happier to be back at work at First Dakota National Bank in Yankton than Bob Willcockson. When this financial advisor found out in October 2009 the reason he had turned jaundice was pancreatic cancer, he wasn't banking on much more time.

 I knew I was dead. The doctors told me I had 1 in a 100 chance to survive and I think that was more optimistic than it should have been. I don't think by odds were that good. We had funeral plans and everything done. Unfortunately, I had the most common and least treatable (pancreatic cancer). It was wrapped around my superior mesenteric artery and vein so it's inoperable at that point, "Bob said.

At the advice of family members, Bob went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN to see if anything could be done. They put him in a phase 1 trial for patients with inoperable pancreatic cancer. Bob was the 17th person to ever receive this type of treatment. Instead of getting traditional chemo through an IV, the Mayo doctors injected the chemo directly into the tumor endoscopically.

"They gave me a chance to hurt the tumor for a short time. It was pretty much revenge on my part. I was going to die, but I could get revenge for a couple of days or weeks or months it was worth it. If I was going to lose the war, I could at least win that battle," Bob said.

After that one time treatment Bob went home to Yankton and immediately started radiation therapy with Radiation Oncologist Dr. Michael Peterson at the Avera Sacred Heart Cancer Center.

"In his case, it was important he had advanced cancer treatment options available because his situation was special. The way his organs were situated that meant if we hadn't used a very advanced treatment of Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) we wouldn't have been able to focus the dose the way we wanted to, to give him low risk long time side effects. He came through beautifully," Dr. Peterson said.

So beautifully that his inoperable tumor became operable. He went back to Mayo for a complicated Whipple surgery. Surgeons removed the head of the pancreas, the duodenum (the opening of the small intestine and rerouted how his stomach empties into his small intestine) and had to vascular reconstruct the artery and vein the tumor was wrapped around. 

"I think Dr. Peterson would take credit for this that tumor was so annihilated they had trouble getting it out, " Bob said.

Bob can't explain why he got pancreatic cancer because he had no risk factors; no family history, he's not a smoker and wasn't overweight. He also can't explain why he survived it.  He only knows he had two girls who were way too young to grow up without a father. Thanks to the life saving cancer care he got at Avera he's now banking on being around for them for a very long time.

For more information on the Avera Sacred Heart Cancer Center go to:


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