Bret Eisman has always been a family man. He believes that family and health are the two most important things in life. In October 2018, Bret was about to embark on a journey that nearly 57,000 people face each year in America. His health was going to be tested, but with his family by his side, he knew he could fight the battle.
Toward the end of 2018, Bret wasn’t feeling like himself. His skin and eyes were discolored with a yellowish shade and his abdomen was constantly an area of discomfort. This prompted him to schedule a visit with his gastroenterologist.
Right away, his doctor recognized that Bret’s condition was serious. He suspected it was either pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer. Bret was admitted to a local hospital for further testing on October 31. The very next day, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths and is the 10th most common cancer in men. Pancreatic cancer can create major life-threatening challenges if not caught early. Thankfully, Bret was able to catch it early, but his journey was just beginning.
Bret went through two procedures to insert a stent to unblock the tumor that was allowing bile into his system. The first surgery was not successful, because the stent was not large enough. That’s when he turned to the experts.
His second stent placement was performed by Mehrdad Saliminejad, M.D., a gastroenterologist with a focus on advanced endoscopic procedures. He was also consulting with Ronald Wolf, M.D., a liver and pancreatic surgeon at the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Medical Center. Dr. Wolf is part of the Complex Pancreatic & Liver Cancer Program, which is dedicated to diagnosing and treating difficult pancreatic cancer cases, like Bret’s.
Most pancreatic cancers occur in the head of the pancreas. Because the removal of a tumor in the pancreatic head, referred to as a "Whipple Procedure" or "pancreaticoduodenectomy," is a complex and time-consuming surgery with significant risk, Bret sought referral to an experienced team for his treatment. Better results have been associated with high volume centers and surgeons performing the surgery and the additional or adjuvant treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation. Bret needed both.
Prior to surgery, Bret had to go through intense chemotherapy because the tumor on his pancreas was contacting a main artery in the region called the superior mesenteric artery. His medical oncologist, Dr. Vu Phan, and Dr. Wolf, both determined that based on Bret’s overall health he could handle the rigorous treatments. After five months of chemotherapy, the tumor shrank. On April 10, 2019, Dr. Wolf performed Bret’s 11-hour Whipple Procedure.
The surgery requires the surgeon to remove the head of the pancreas, a part of the small intestine, the gallbladder, and the end of the common bile duct and sometimes a portion of the stomach. Once this is done and the head of the pancreas is removed, the surgeon must reconstruct the organs that were removed during the process.
Traditional surgery requires a long and wide incision on the abdomen wall. Some patients are eligible for minimally invasive techniques in which smaller incisions are made in the abdominal wall, resulting in less pain, blood loss, and scarring. In this case, a more standard procedure was performed, and Bret recovered nicely and within six days he was discharged and back at home.
“Dr. Wolf was fantastic,” says Bret. “His knowledge and unique capabilities gave me so much confidence, even though I was going through something as scary as the Whipple Procedure. He did such an amazing job and the procedure gave me a chance to have a longer life.”
During this incredible journey Bret met several other patients who also underwent the Whipple Procedure with Dr. Wolf. “I dubbed us The Wolf Pack,” says Bret. “I even want to make T-shirts.”
Pancreatic cancer presents itself with many difficult challenges, but there is always hope. “Every step of pancreatic cancer presents its own battle. Long Beach Medical Center has an amazing medical team and physicians helping me through this. They helped me beat and eliminate my cancer. I was so fortunate to have the team I had.”
- General Surgery
- Oncology & Hematology