At 33 years old and with no family cancer history, Jennifer Ciecierega’s lifetime health issues involved little more than a broken bone. However, just weeks before her wedding in July 2010, the bride-to-be learned she had a cancerous tumor in her abdomen. Stephen Ettinghausen, MD, FACS, medical director of surgical oncology for the Lipson Cancer Institute, met with Jennifer and her family to address their many questions and finalize a treatment plan: Two days after her wedding, Jennifer would have surgery to remove the tumor.
“He was not going to leave the exam room until we felt comfortable and informed,” Jennifer recalled– and that level of committed compassion extended to the rest of the Lipson team. “The level of care was unexpected and completely touching.” The wedding went off without a hitch, but the subsequent surgery took an unexpected turn when her doctors discovered the tumor was growing out of her pancreas. They recommended a Whipple procedure, a far more extensive approach than had originally been anticipated. While providing the best chance of removing the cancerous tissue, the potential for lasting side effects would be greater. Furthermore, in part because few patients as young as Jennifer require it, there are few cases of pregnancies following a Whipple procedure. The surgery was successful, but the years that followed were filled with tests and the looming specter of cancer’s potential return. Each cancer-free year brings new relief, but the summer of 2013 brought that and more: Just three years after the wedding that almost wasn’t, Jennifer’s new family grew to three with the birth of a healthy baby boy, Thomas.
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