In May 2004, Lori Matteson of Raleigh was 42 and experiencing itching on the bottom of her feet and abdominal discomfort. Over the counter medicines did nothing to relieve these symptoms and they grew worse during a family trip and she became jaundiced. Blood tests revealed elevated liver enzymes and an ultrasound was scheduled. She learned that her bile duct was blocked so endoscopic surgery was performed to insert a stent and a biopsy taken.
The biopsy confirmed that cancerous cells were present, and then a CT scan showed a mass near her pancreas. She underwent a Whipple operation (a complex surgical procedure in which the head of the pancreas, the gallbladder, part of the stomach, part of the small intestine, and the bile duct are removed.) at Johns Hopkins. The pathology from this procedure confirmed pancreatic cancer. Due to a positive margin and lymph node involvement, further treatment was necessary.
She extensively researched her options. “Being treated locally was important to me and my family, and when I visited UNC and met Drs. Rich Goldberg, Hanna Sanoff and Joel Tepper, it was a no-brainer.”
“I came to UNC because they talked to me as a real person and not a case,” Matteson explained. While her first rounds of treatments did not prevent the cancer from metastasizing in June of 2005, subsequent therapy has been successful, and Matteson currently shows “no evidence of disease.” She credits her doctors and UNC staff for “outstanding care” and is monitored with check-ups every few months.
Matteson and husband Dan have a son, Kurt, who was just under two years old at the time of her diagnosis. “Kurt has been a great source of motivation for me to get better and stay active. With my type of cancer, the prognosis was very poor—less than a 5% shot of seeing Kurt graduate from kindergarten. That was the worst thing for me—thinking of him growing up without a mother. I am living proof that statistics are just that, statistics—-Kurt is now six years old, in the second grade, and I am 100% here for him.”
She offers the following observations for fellow patients. “Cancer is a different journey for each patient. For me, I tried to act as though the cancer is a bump in the road, find out what you have to do and do it. Cancer patients are often told to have a positive attitude—-sound advice, but realize that doing that all of the time is nearly impossible. Sometimes you just can’t feel positive, and that’s all right. Support from family and friends has also been invaluable on my road back to health. I had to recognize that it’s not weak to accept help; just like it’s okay to ask for directions when you’re lost. Oh, and try not to lose your sense of humor—-laughter truly is the best medicine—-or at least the one with the fewest bad side effects.”