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Beating the odds of pancreatic cancer

October 17, 2017

Ken Brown and Malcolm Bilimoria, M.D.

Ken Brown wasn’t feeling well, but attributed his symptoms to the stress of caring for and then losing his mother. When symptoms of itchiness, dark-colored urine and jaundice continued, he visited Malcolm Bilimoria, M.D., Surgical Oncologist at Northwest Community Healthcare (NCH) and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

“It was a tumor pressing against the bile duct,” Ken, a 68-year-old Highland Park resident, explains. “I was very fortunate that it was discovered.”

Dr. Bilimoria removed the pancreatic tumor on January 8, 2014 with a complex, four-hour surgery called the Whipple procedure. Thankfully, Ken’s cancer was caught early, and he was able to fully recover and beat grim odds – only about five percent of pancreatic cancer patients survive five years. Since then, he has referred several patients to Dr. Bilimoria.

“I tell people that I had the absolute best care at NCH,” Ken says. “Everybody from the reception desk, to the patient intake, to the nurses while I was in the hospital, to the aides that came in and cleaned the room, to the person who helped walk me out afterwards, you can tell that they really enjoy working at NCH and they made my stay there that much more comfortable.”

Before and after the surgery, Ken went through chemotherapy with an oncologist and then followed up with visits to Dr. Bilimoria’s office for scans which have shown no return of the cancer.

“We’re looking at the abdominal cavity to make sure nothing comes back in the liver because one of the sneaky places these tumors like to come back is in the liver,” Dr. Bilimoria says.

Ken continues to practice law and do all the things he loves, including hiking. In October, he even ended up fulfilling a lifelong dream to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro with Dr. Bilimoria, the doctor who saved his life.

“It was meant to be,” Ken says, adding that if Dr. Bilimoria hadn’t mentioned his hike during a follow-up visit in April, he wouldn’t have known anything about it. “I said, ‘You can’t go without me,’” Ken recalls.

Ken likes to tell people he’s a ‘pancan’ survivor, and he can’t help but share his contagious, glass-half-full mentality.

“Anything is possible,” says Ken. “People have different mountains they have to climb, and it might be someone who’s facing some cancer, a different type of cancer, and can’t even get out of bed after chemo. If they get out of bed that day, they’ve climbed a mountain equally as high as Kilimanjaro.”

Having symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer progresses quickly, Dr. Bilimoria says. With any cancer, early diagnosis is critical. Seek medical attention early if you’re experiencing symptoms like Ken’s. NCH offers advanced diagnostics to detect cancer, and first-rate cancer treatment and services, including the da Vinci Surgical System and CyberKnife. Read more about the NCH Pancreas Care team, and call 847-483-9400 for a referral to a doctor specializing in pancreatic or hepatobiliary diseases.

See the CBS 2 News story on Ken and Dr. Bilimoria.