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Michael and Mary Ireland

Offering the Expertise You Need

Learn more about how the Illinois Center for Pancreatic and Hepatobiliary Diseases at NCH is helping pancreatic patients get the best treatment in the region. Click here for more information.

A Picture of Survival

One woman's story illustrates NCH's unparalleled pancreatic cancer expertise

In the face of a dire diagnosis, experience counts. Pancreatic cancer patients such as 52-year-old Cary resident Mary Ireland know this firsthand.

Approaching her one-year survival mark from pancreatic cancer—sometimes called "the doom and gloom of the cancers" for its starkly low survival rate—the art studio owner had the same rare pancreatic cancer that claimed the life of Steve Jobs.

Referred to Malcolm Bilimoria, MD, director of the Illinois Center for Pancreatic and Hepatobiliary Diseases (ICPHD) at Northwest Community Hospital (NCH), Ireland says his experience helped her face a surgery called the Whipple procedure with a sense of calm that surprised even her.

How Whipple Works

The Whipple procedure removes portions of the pancreas, bile duct and small intestine and then reconnects organs to allow for digestion. "There's really no bigger operation you can have in the abdomen except for a liver transplant," Dr. Bilimoria says.

According to the American Cancer Society, the Whipple procedure is best done by a surgeon who performs at least 20 a year. This is where NCH soars above nearby hospitals—not to mention nearby states. "We're doing more than 100 Whipple procedures a year," says Dr. Bilimoria. Many of these are complicated referral cases that have been refused at renowned healthcare institutions in Chicago and throughout the country.

While his own expertise is unparalleled in the region, Dr. Bilimoria credits the ICPHD team that includes a patient nurse navigator plus physical therapists, nutritionist counselors and monthly support meetings.

A Better Outlook

Though not without risks or lengthy recovery, the Whipple procedure offers a real chance at a cure for many pancreatic cancer patients.

As for Mary?

After a monthlong recovery of struggles and setbacks, Mary reflects on her journey. "At first I could barely walk 50 feet," she says. Slowly, however, she realized that paintings in the halls were the mile markers of her journey. "Each time I passed a particular piece, I was one step closer to completing my walk and another step closer to going home cancer-free."

Today, she is power walking for exercise. And art is still a big part of the journey.

Recently, Dr. Bilimoria commissioned three paintings from Mary's husband, Michael, an accomplished watercolor artist. "They look like a path to recovery, a path to getting better," Dr. Bilimoria says. "It gives me such pleasure every day to walk in, look at this beautiful art, and personally know the artist and the story behind it all."

Malcolm Bilimoria, MD

Dr. Malcolm Bilimoria is a board-certified surgical oncologist on staff at NCH who performs this type of procedure. For a list of surgical oncologists on staff at NCH, click here, or call HealthConnection at 847.618.4YOU (4968).

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Last Updated 04/10/2009