March 21, 2022
Jennifer and Doug Lambert, ministers with Cincinnati Church of Christ and residents of Sharonville, Ohio, were preparing for a September 2019 trip to Europe to visit their son and his family to celebrate their grandson’s first birthday. When Jennifer’s stomach began to bother her, she assumed she caught Doug’s stomach bug but saw a doctor out of precaution prior to leaving the country. With mild symptoms and doctor’s advice to avoid milk, Jennifer and Doug boarded a plane. Unfortunately, the journey ahead was one plagued by exhaustion and medical tests that revealed a tumor.
Four-to-five days after her arrival in Rome, Jennifer began experiencing additional symptoms that seemed unrelated to a stomach virus—pale stools, dark urine, and a lot of itching on her arms, legs, and abdomen. These did not stop her from flying to Madrid where there would be a can’t-miss first birthday celebration for her grandson. Jennifer pushed through the fatigue but was approached by two of her son’s friends who told her she looked yellow. One of them urged her to go to the hospital immediately.
Jennifer went to the emergency room of a nearby teaching hospital and her blood test showed her bilirubin level was 12 mg/dL. The normal range is 0.1-1.2 mg/dL. This explained Jennifer’s jaundice, the yellow color in her skin and eyes. Further tests revealed a tumor that was pressing on her bile duct. “The doctors told me it was most likely cancer, but I wasn’t concerned as I had always been so healthy,” said Jennifer. After a five-day hospital stay where she had endoscopic surgery to place stents inside her bile duct to hold it open, Jennifer and Doug returned to the states.
The couple turned to their church network and the internet in search of recommendations for the best doctors to care for Jennifer. Their search led them to OHC medical oncologist and hematologist, Cynthia C. Chua, MD, and Mercy Health surgical oncologist, Shyam Allameneni, MD. After reviewing a DVD of the medical imaging from Spain, both Dr. Chua and Dr. Allameneni felt that Jennifer probably had pancreatic cancer. “Pancreatic cancer is typically diagnosed in its late stages,” said Dr. Chua. “It’s location deep in the abdomen makes it difficult for doctors to see or feel a mass. Unfortunately, there are no screening tests for those without symptoms and the prognosis is poor for advanced cancer.”
Dr. Allameneni expressed that a Whipple surgery, a complex procedure to remove the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine (duodenum), the gallbladder, and the bile duct, would give Jennifer an additional two-to-five years. Dr. Chua recommended chemotherapy.
On October 3, 2019, Jennifer endured the complicated life-saving surgery that left her with a nine-inch incision down her abdomen. “I was exhausted, had no appetite, and there were tubes coming out of me all over,” said Jennifer. “My tumor was stage 2, but fortunately, the margins were clear and so were all 21 lymph nodes that were removed.”
Although the cancer had not metastasized, Dr. Chua recommended seven rounds of Folfirinox, a powerful combination of five chemotherapy agents that is often the first line of treatment for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer. “Folfirinox is an extremely rigorous treatment, and many patients are unable to tolerate five rounds because of the side effects,” said Dr. Chua. “Still, the latest research shows it’s an extremely effective therapy at extending survival and Jennifer’s tumor margins were very narrow.”
“The chemotherapy was brutal,” said Jennifer. “I was so tired, had neuropathy in my hands and feet, and a lot of mouth sores. Nothing tasted good and my weight dropped to 93 pounds. But, I had so much trust in Dr. Chua. She was extremely confident in the regimen and was so up-to-date on the research data.”
Jennifer completed seven rounds of chemotherapy before stopping because of liver issues. Her final treatment was in February 2020. Since then, she has had eight scans, and all were clear–most definitely a celebration as many pancreatic cancer patients do not receive such results.
Jennifer’s weight is now stable at 115 pounds, and aside from a pancreatic enzyme she takes to help digest protein, Jennifer does not require treatment. “I’m extremely fortunate to be alive 28 months following my diagnosis,” said Jennifer. “The only side effect from chemotherapy is some remaining neuropathy in the soles of my feet. I’m doing better and better each day.”
In addition to the support of her husband, son, and daughter, Jennifer has a worldwide fellowship of thousands of people praying for her. “I start each day with, ‘Thank you, God. I’m alive,’” said Jennifer. She has follow-up visits with Dr. Chua every six months. “OHC is security, confidence, and comfort,” said Jennifer. “It’s hard to believe I feel so at home in a clinical setting.”
As Jennifer anxiously awaits the arrival of her third grandchild, she and Doug are preparing for their retirement in May. They have already purchased a condominium in Williamsburg, Virginia.
OHC’s leading cancer specialists use the most advanced technologies and latest therapies to treat all forms of cancer. Its nationally recognized cancer research program gives patients early access to novel therapies. To request a second opinion, call 1-888-649-4800 or visit ohcare.com.
Top picture: Jennifer and Doug LambertComments (0)