Betty Gassner

Pancreatic Cancer Patient Gets a Second Chance

betty gassne

When 81-year-old Betty Gassner noticed her complexion appeared jaundiced, she knew she needed to make an appointment with her family physician. Having lived a healthy lifestyle and with no signs of high blood pressure or other health issues, she was shocked by the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

In February 2010, Gassner went under anesthesia to have the Whipple procedure performed at her local hospital. She woke up to learn that her surgery had been unsuccessful. She was given one year to live.

After sitting in the waiting room for hours, only to receive the disappointing news, Gassner's family immediately took action. While Gassner was still in recovery, her daughter Brenda made a call to someone she knew would be able to help her find an alternative for her mother, Dr. Katherine Tkaczuk, director of the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center's Breast Evaluation and Treatment Program. Dr. Tkaczuk introduced Brenda and her mother to Dr. Nader Hanna, associate professor of Surgery and head of Surgical Oncology at UMGCC.

Recovery from her first surgery was slow, but Gassner felt confident that Dr. Hanna would be the one to help her. "Dr. Hanna was very impressive and down to earth. He told me right away that he thought he could help me through surgery or chemotherapy," she said.

"I didn't want the chemotherapy because I was a little leery of the side effects. Dr. Hanna was a little reluctant to perform surgery because of my age, and the trouble I had with my first surgery. But, I was getting on good in May, so Dr. Hanna consented to do the surgery," Gassner continued.

On June 2, 2010, Gassner's family was both relieved and excited to learn that Dr. Hanna had done what they were told was impossible. He had successfully removed Gassner's tumor, which had grown to be golf ball-sized.

A resident of Maryland's Eastern Shore, Gassner found all the comforts of home at UMGCC. "I received very good treatment at the Greenebaum Cancer Center. I was in the recovery unit for a few days and then switched to a private room. It was a big room and my family could come and visit any time," she said.

Gassner also recovered much faster from her surgery with Dr. Hanna than from her first procedure. "My first incision became infected, but I have had very little trouble this time and I feel a lot better. Dr. Hanna saved my life."

Gassner's daughter, Brenda, credits Dr. Hanna with restoring her family. "Thanks to Dr. Hanna, my mom went from having months left to live to hopefully having many more years to come. Personally, I can't say enough about the care my mother received from Dr. Hanna and the University of Maryland."

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