Patient Stories

Stories of Hope: Peter Ball

Just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York City in March 2020, his wife had heart valve replacement surgery and was hospitalized a week later with a life-threatening infection. Peter stayed by her bedside, praying for her recovery. She finally bounced back after two long months, but then in September, he found out that his pancreatic cancer had recurred. Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Ryan Finlay

Ryan is a tough guy—a combat veteran and an NYPD cop. Once, on active duty, he had to have neck surgery without anesthesia. But, he says, that pain paled compared to his pancreatitis. Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Tony Rafaniello

May of 2016 was an exciting time for Tony Rafaniello. Now retired as an assistant principal and basketball coach, Tony and his wife Dale were preparing for a trip to Italy and a cruise around the Isle of Sicily. His mind often drifted to all he would do, see and eat in the weeks ahead. Two days before departure, he woke up with terrible stomach pain. “I was nauseous and throwing up,” Tony says. “My wife’s a nurse at a New Jersey hospital, so we drove there right away.” In the ER, Tony was given some pain medication. Then, suddenly, he passed out. For the next ten days, he was unconscious, breathing with the aid of a ventilator. Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Sylvia George

Sylvia George was first diagnosed with advanced localized pancreatic cancer in May of 2017. It started with unexplained back pain, a vague symptom that led Sylvia to make an appointment with her GP. After a CT scan found a spot on her pancreas, the biopsy then confirmed the diagnosis. Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Florentino Rosa

Since I was a child, I remember my parents bringing me to a series of doctors to try and find out the cause of my relentless abdominal pain. Unfortunately, no doctor could accurately identify the condition that was causing my symptoms, thus prescribing me wrong and unnecessary medications. This situation went on for years. Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Lucien Zito

In April 2007, after symptoms of dark urine and a rash, Lucien Zito visited a surgeon who determined his symptoms were caused by a mass on his pancreas. This information was devastating to hear but even more devastating was the doctor’s conclusion that his cancer was inoperable. Thoughts of confusion and hopelessness overtook the Zito family.  Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Keni Torres

My story begins on October 9th, 2016. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, I had lived 29 years without any significant medical history besides a bout of childhood asthma.  Read more here »


Islet Cell Transplant Ends Chronic Pain

Cody Artist went through years of escalating pain before he met Beth Schrope, MD, PhD. Director of NYP/Columbia’s Autologous Islet Cell Transplantation program, and the first to perform this operation in the New York area. This procedure finally ended his attacks and gave him back his life.  Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Bob Tepé

Life can be snatched from you in an instant. A more diabolical way is to be told by your doctor that you have cancer. Is it just as much a life-crushing moment if you had an idea something was wrong and your doctor’s confirmation somehow gave it bonafide legitimacy? Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Richard Santangelo

See Richard Santangelo's video from 2015. Read his Story of Hope for an update!


Stories of Hope: David Paffenroth

In the fall of 2014, Dave began to lose weight. Being diagnosed a few years earlier with Diabetes II, at first he thought it was part of the disease. However, other symptoms started to appear — pain under his rib cage, losing more weight, change in stools, etc. An appointment to the primary doctor in October had Dave and his wife, Wendy, asking a lot of questions. After seeing doctor after doctor, Dave and Wendy finally arrived at the Pancreas Center, for successful diagnosis and treatment of Dave's pancreatic cancer. Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Jennifer Alexander

At age 30, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in my native country and a hysterectomy saved my life. I am now a 63-year-old woman who migrated from Venezuela in 1991. Read more here »


Stories of Hope: Geri Lipschitz

A Note from The Pancreas Center: We would like to express our wholehearted thanks for all the great work Geri has done for our patients and our program. She has consistently shown herself to be a loyal and hard working, integral part of the team. She has made a remarkable contribution to the lives of those we have cared for at The Pancreas Center. Geri, you will be sorely missed and we wish you a long, happy and healthy retirement! Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Sarah Bennett

My boxing gloves are laced up and I'm ready for the next round. Read more here »


Stories of Hope: Suzanne Musich

Michael told me that I would have to fight for my life and that this was not going to be easy. Read more here »


Stories of Hope: Michael Menashi

How the worst day of his life led to one patient's rebirth. Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Adam Kaplan

Adam KaplanI am a clinical psychologist on staff at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, I am a certified psychoanalyst, I am well versed in behavioral techniques for addressing anxiety, and I was completely unprepared when I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February of 2014. All of my training and knowledge seemed to vanish in an instant and I felt myself falling through space. I was terrified. Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Tammie Feldman

For seven years of my life, I lived in a tortured cycle of heading into the hospital, staying at the hospital, and heading home from the hospital with the disheartening diagnosis of chronic pancreatitis. For anyone with chronic pancreatitis or knows of anyone with chronic pancreatitis, you know what a painful debilitating disease this is and how it changes every aspect of your life and the lives of those you love. Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Carole DeNettis

Carole DeNettisCarole DeNettis had a small tumor at the head of her pancreas that was indeed pancreatic cancer. Dr. Chabot and his team were eager to performed the Whipple procedure. She felt totally confident that she was going to win this battle against pancreatic cancer. She is now honored to have been given the title "SURVIVOR." Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Howard Ebert's Story

Howard Ebert is a pancreatic cancer survivor. After being diagnosed and treated several years ago, Howard is now cancer free and leading a full and healthy life. 

Stories of Hope: Jan Hilgeman's Story

Stage IV." As always, Dr. Sherman didn't mince words. I was 51 years old and already several weeks into chemotherapy treatments for pancreatic cancer when I finally asked him exactly what stage my cancer was. Of course I knew the diagnosis — and that it wasn't all that early, but I certainly didn't expect to hear it hadn't been caught as early as I had hoped and assumed. I had never had any health issues at all — ever. My grandparents lived well into their 80s and 90s and my parents are in their 80s now and for the most part healthy and vibrant. And really I felt all just seemed so implausible and surreal. Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Alyson's Story

As an infant, thirty-year-old Alyson Peluso, underwent surgery to remove a choleductal cyst in her bile duct. Her lifelong digestive problems came to a crisis when she reached her mid-20s, leading her to the Pancreas Center, where a precancerous pancreatic cyst was removed. Her experiences inspired Alyson to found the P.E.A.C.E Fund, a support organization for patients with pancreatic diseases and their families. Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Michael Weisz

By Tuly Weisz

Although I am not usually one to share intimate details in a public setting, I feel that it is important to be able to share a message of hope and optimism. The day after my sister's wedding in Jerusalem, my sister told my father that he didn't look well, to which he replied with a joke about feeling sick from paying the wedding expenses. However, we all then noticed that my sister was right. Once home, my Dad scheduled a doctor's appointment, which led to an exam, which led to a test, which led to the terrible diagnosis: pancreatic cancer. Fast forward to chemotherapy followed by surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia with Dr. Chabot. Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Lawrence Rudnick

You CAN beat pancreatic cancer, but you need a lot of help. I was at JFK Hospital in Edison, New Jersey in November 2011 waiting to have my gall bladder removed. During a pre-op endoscopic procedure, Dr. David Rosenheck saw a tumor on my pancreas. He and his partner, Dr. Steven Hodes as well as a surgeon all said that I HAD to see Dr. John Chabot at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. These doctors, none of whom I knew, contacted Dr. Chabot on my behalf, and I was transferred several days later. My wife Beth and I met with Dr. Chabot and Dr. William Sherman, who would be my oncologist. Dr. Sherman was running a clinical trial and both doctors invited me to join. This was the best decision I have made in my life other than asking Beth to marry me. Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Robert DiChiara

In October 2012 at the age of 55 Robert DiChiara was picking pumpkins with his son when he developed abdominal pain that continued to worsen. A visit to his physician revealed that he had a tumor at the head of the pancreas and he was diagnosed with stage 3 adenocarinoma. Robert was told that he had roughly four months to live, so he took action immediately. Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Robert Lawton

In February of 1999 Robert Lawton began having gastric discomfort accompanied by itching. Within the next few days he developed severe jaundice and suddenly became very ill. After visiting his primary care physician, a CT of his abdomen revealed a lesion at the head of the pancreas and, ultimately, the diagnosis of adenocarcinoma. It was at this point that Robert came to Columbia University Medical Center to see Dr. John Chabot, the director of the Pancreas Center. Robert's pancreatic cancer was caught early on while the growth was still small, making him an excellent candidate for the Whipple procedure. After a successful Whipple, Robert was cured of pancreatic cancer, but his story does not end there. Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Kay E. Friedlander

It was the summer of 2008, I was 64 and we had just purchased a tiny lake cottage on Kayuta Lake between Ithaca and Watkins Glen, NY. I was beleaguered by consistent diarrhea and had the water rechecked to see if the well water was contaminated which was not the case. A colonoscopy in the Fall showed nothing and I was told to eat more fiber. That Winter I developed floating clay colored stools. An internet search found two possible explanations — Celiac Disease and Pancreatic Cancer. My grandmother had died of the latter but I hoped for the former. Since I had a total thyroidectomy 4 years earlier for thyroid cancer I deluded myself that I couldn't be unfortunate enough to have another cancer and pancreatic cancer at that. Read more here »

Stories of Hope: John Whitley

My name is John Whitley, and I have lived in Nyack for 25 years.

In January 2011, I got sick, then rapidly sicker. At first they thought I had a gall bladder problem, but when I didn't improve after gall bladder removal, I was referred to New York Presbyterian Hospital. Many, many tests finally revealed that I was in the early stages of pancreatic cancer. Read more here »

Read John’s 2015 update.

Stories of Hope: Regina Haimer

It all started with my yearly routine visit to my OB/GYN in May of 2012. After my check-up, which was just fine, my doctor came back into the room and mentioned that there was a microscopic trace of blood in my urine. I then visited a urologist, who performed tests that found a 12 cm mass in my abdominal wall. Read more here »

Stories of Hope: David Mankuta

After several weeks of abdominal pain last summer, I visited my primary care physician. He ran a few tests, suspecting that my pain may have been related to previous issues, and I went home. By the time I went back two weeks later, I had developed some back pain. He promptly focused on the pancreas since it was located between the stomach and the spine where my pain was concentrated. He ordered a CT scan which showed "something" on the pancreas. Two MRI's later, my doctor, together with a gastroenterologist, showed us a mass at the head of the pancreas. Knowing that pancreatic cancer is a killer, I was overcome with panic. Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Karla Scherne-Hugerth

Karla's story began in April 2002, when she began experiencing severe backaches that continued to worsen. After learning on June 5, 2002 that she had cancer, she arranged an appointment at Columbia University Medical Center with Dr. John Chabot, Director of the Pancreas Center. Dr. Chabot felt that her only option was the Whipple surgery. After a successful surgery she was informed she had 4/5 lymph node involvement and thus needed to undergo both radiation and chemotherapy. Karla was prescribed Gemzar and Taxotere. Since then, none of her scans or blood work has shown any visible signs of active disease. Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Rokshana Husain

Rokshana HusainWhen she made a trip to her local emergency room for a heart problem in 2009, Rokshana Husain could not have foreseen the complex journey that visit would initiate. Not satisfied with her initial diagnosis, Rokshana sought a second opinion at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia, which proved to be a life-saving decision. Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Ian Bernard

At only 13 years old, Ian Bernard made a selfless contribution to pancreatic cancer research in honor of his late grandfather. Read more here »

Profile in Compassion: Sue Mirza Carries Husband’s Legacy, Potentially Transforming the Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer

On first glance, the story may appear cliché; a spouse dies, and the surviving spouse gives to a charitable cause, hoping to confer some measure of permanence to his or her loved one’s memory. Repeated in infinite variations, the uplifting closure softens just a little bit of the survivors’ sadness and pain, and makes a small contribution that lasts a little while before fading. Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Bill Gillmore's Story

In March 2009, Bill was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer, which was declared inoperable because it involved the vessels surrounding his pancreas. He underwent nine weeks of chemotherapy, and the pancreas tumor had shrunk to half its original size, but after a brief rest it began growing again. In despair, Bill came to the Pancreas Center after learning its team performs surgery to remove inoperable pancreatic tumors.Read more here »

Stories of Hope: Alia's Story

Alia suffered from a a sensitive digestive system that was originally treated as acid reflux. In 2009, as a 19-year-old college freshman, she was diagnosed with a benign tumor in the head of her pancreas. She underwent a Whipple procedure at the Pancreas Center, and part of her pancreas was removed. Read more here »

From Patient to Activist: Ralph Cheney Spreads His Story of Hope to Others

After Ralph Cheney was treated for gallstones and pancreatitis at his local hospital in Monticello, New York, a CT scan revealed a shadow on his pancreas. His doctor suggested waiting six months and repeating the CT scan after the pancreatitis cleared up. Ralph's wife, Mariann, thought otherwise, and after additional research, the couple came to The Pancreas Center for successful diagnosis and treatment of Ralph's pancreatic cancer. Five years later, Ralph is a survivor who hopes his story serves as inspiration for others battling pancreatic cancer."

UPDATE! Ralph and Mariann Cheney Receive the 2015 Surgery of the Alimentary Tract (SSAT) Public Service Award.

Persistence Pays off for Lucien Zito and His Family

For Lucien Zito, the process of finding appropriate treatment for his pancreatic cancer was a strenuous and protracted ordeal, adding to the stress of the diagnosis. Fortunately for this energetic 65-year-old former real estate developer, he was able to draw upon a loving and supportive family and substantial inner resources for support. Read more here »

Betsy Hilfiger's Close Call: An Unexpected Pancreatectomy

Betsy Hilfiger, fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger's sister, never had reason to believe she was at risk for pancreatic cancer. Trained as a nurse, she was well aware of the illness and its known risk factors--smoking and heredity among others. The Hilfigers had some cancer in their family, but none of the cancer syndromes associated with pancreatic cancer or pancreatic cancer itself. But a routine battery of bloodwork showing abnormalities in her liver enzymes led Betsy to discover she pancreatic mucus cell cysts. While initially benign, if left alone they almost always become malignant. Read more here »