Rhode Island Hospital Patient Story: Christine

Meet Christine

In the spring of 2014, Christine was planning a family trip to the Caribbean. Dreams of sunny beaches were playing in her head when her son Aaron said suddenly, “Mom, you are so yellow. Your eyes are really yellow!”

“It can wait until we get back,” she’d replied. But her family was so insistent she not ignore it that she gave in and went to the hospital – choosing the place that had saved her husband, Paul, when he’d been badly injured years before.

Rhode Island Hospital’s emergency department ordered blood work and a CT scan for Christine. And that night, she was admitted as an inpatient. Diagnosis: pancreatic cancer. “I didn’t know much about pancreatic cancer, but I knew actors Michael Landon and Patrick Swayze had had it, and that it was very bad,” she recalls.

“I was devastated. I just kept thinking, ‘I’m going to die.’”

Christine was right about it being bad. Since pancreatic cancer usually has no symptoms until it has spread to other organs, it has one of the worst prognoses. But Christine was also in the right place at Rhode Island Hospital because our Lifespan Cancer Institute has done remarkable research that has led to promising treatments for pancreatic cancer patients.

Christine’s CT scan showed her cancer was confined to the wide part of her pancreas and was pressing against the common bile duct, blocking the flow of bile and causing the jaundice that had yellowed her skin and eyes.  Because of its location, Christine was eligible for a complex surgery known as the Whipple procedure. It could extend her life – perhaps even save it. For the first time since she heard the news, Christine’s devastation gave way to hope.

Under the direction of Kevin P. Charpentier, MD, the pancreatic surgery program at Rhode Island Hospital is the largest in the state and an established Center of Excellence. Dr. Charpentier performed the Whipple procedure on Christine just one week after her diagnosis in May 2014. Her post-surgical pathology report looked great. But she would need months of chemotherapy to catch any cells that might have escaped removal.

Howard Safran, MD, Interim Division Director, Division of Hematology/Oncology and professor of medicine at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and Denise Luppe, oncology research nurse supervisor, told Christine that they’d just started a Phase 2 clinical trial with a less toxic combination of drugs than the standard chemo protocol. It could have fewer side effects and potentially be more effective long term. Would Christine consider enrolling in their study?

“I’ll do anything that will help anyone in the future,” was Christine’s enthusiastic response.

Christine tolerated the experimental drug regimen well, and went on to have six weeks of radiation therapy. After all treatments ended in December 2014, she was told to return to Rhode Island Hospital every three months for monitoring.

Every blood test and CT scan since then has been clear. There is no sign of disease.  And at her last visit this past December, she was told she’s now “graduated” to follow-ups every six months.

“Life is back to normal,” she reports – adding that she’s just returned from a family trip to the Caribbean!