Whipple Surgery Patient Story

"This procedure saved my life."


Theresa HollandI found out on my 38th birthday that I had pancreatic cancer. It was a slap in the face because I went from a pulled muscle – which is what my doctor thought I had – to pancreatic cancer. It was devastating.

My doctor sent me to a surgeon in my hometown who couldn’t help me and he sent me to the University of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham. There, the oncologist told me that I needed surgery, but the surgeon refused to operate because it was too dangerous. They were only able to treat me with radiation and chemotherapy.

I stayed at the University of Alabama Hope Lodge for six weeks during my radiation and chemotherapy, but these treatments did nothing for me. They didn’t shrink the cancer.  The oncologist said, "All I can tell you, Theresa, is that you’re in stage four.  You need to go home and get your ducks in a row. You have six months to a year to live."

I wasn’t going to accept that. I have two boys who were very young and I wanted to see them grow up.

One day I received a call from a number that I didn't recognize. I called the number back and it was Emory Hospital. To this day, I have no idea how they got my number. I asked if they had a good pancreatic cancer doctor. The woman on the phone said, "Yes, his name is Dr. Juan Sarmiento." I knew right then that Emory was where I needed to go.

I came to Emory and met with Dr. Sarmiento. He reviewed my chart and told me he would be willing to perform the Whipple. He said that he could not guarantee that the surgery would be successful but that if he felt the surgery was putting my life in danger, he would stop. I really trusted him. He was honest with me about the reality of the surgery. He could have turned me away, but he was willing to take a chance.

I went home, packed my clothes, and four days later I was on my way back to Emory for surgery. I don’t remember anything about the next two days, but when I woke up, all my family was there with me. They were so happy – they told me that the cancer had been removed. It was a happy, happy moment. 

This procedure saved my life. I am cancer free and have been for seven years. Being that close to death gave me perspective on what is important. I spend a lot of time with my family and I don’t let little stuff bother me anymore.

Theresa Holland, 45

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The Physician

Juan Sarmiento, MD

Learn more about Juan Sarmiento, MD