Surviving Well: Josette, Pancreatic Cancer

2Josette_004Josette Sullivan describes herself as being very blessed, with a life full of great family and friends. “I don’t have any children of my own, but I am the favorite aunt to my nieces and nephews that I am very close to.”

Josette says that it was her support system as well as her phenomenal doctors that helped her through her pancreatic cancer diagnosis in 2011.

“I didn’t have any symptoms, and had always been it great health,” Josette says. “I thought that I might have an ulcer or a kidney stone, and was referred to a specialist. They gave me medication, but I didn’t feel better.”

The Stage 4 pancreatic cancer was discovered through a CAT scan.

“I was truly shocked at the diagnosis,” says Josette. “I was referred to an oncologist, but I knew from my first appointment it wasn’t going to work. He gave me 3-4 months to live and wasn’t encouraging at all.”

Josette knew that with such a late stage diagnosis, the odds were against her, but she didn’t want to give up without a fight.

“I went to Dr. Aaron Burrows, and I asked him who he would recommend. He told me to go see Dr. Alan Feiner, an oncologist at Rose.”

Josette had a consult with Dr. Feiner and knew immediately that he was the right doctor. He told her that if she wanted to really fight, he would do everything he could to help her win.

2Josette_032“Dr. Feiner really listened to me, and after one appointment, I knew that he had been put into my life for a reason,” she says. “I call him my ‘SMIK’—the Smartest Man I Know, because he made me feel like I was the only patient he was treating and was very prepared with information and options. From the first phone call from his office, there was always a plan and his office stayed on top of things and kept me going.”

Josette began a cutting-edge treatment of chemotherapy, which required 48 hours of chemo every other week for six months. After six months, she had great results, and switched to a different treatment that was targeted more specifically for pancreatic cancer, which was also effective.

Today, Josette goes in regularly for scans and tumor marker testing to monitor for any changes or the cancer spreading.

“The regular checkups are very important,” Josette says. “However, if there is even a slight change, Dr. Feiner always has a plan in place to take care of it. I never feel like I’m in a chaotic place.”

Since her diagnosis, Josette has become involved in advocacy causes for pancreatic cancer and cancer research. She even went to Washington D.C. to lobby Congress on the passing of a bill that would help fund research for several cancers that have low survival rates. That bill passed this year with strong bipartisan support.

“It was amazing to be a part of such an important piece of legislature. The advocates met with congresspeople and went to town halls and told our stories,” Josette says. “No one thought it could be done, but it was passed, and I hope it will provide hope to people who might be facing a cancer diagnosis.”

Today, Josette continues with her advocacy activities, works a full schedule and leads a healthy and active lifestyle. She says that when someone is facing a diagnosis, especially one where the odds might not be in your favor, it’s important to have hope and find a doctor you trust.

“For me, finding a doctor who was going to fight with me and be my advocate made all the difference,” she says. “I have hope, I’m still here, and I get to live a wonderful and beautiful life.”

The Rose “Surviving Well” calendar is a 12-month calendar highlighting our cancer services, physicians and inspirational stories from our patients. Josette is our survivor for November.

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