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Patient Stories: Nancy Amato

Beating the Odds

Nancy Amato is living proof that you can beat the odds regarding pancreatic cancer.

The 56-year-old nurse anesthetist from Holland, Ohio, has surpassed the life expectancy given to her by physicians at other medical centers, thanks to a novel pancreatic cancer vaccine developed by researchers at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

The vaccine creates an immune response that targets pancreatic cancer.

“I feel great almost all the time,” she said. “Nobody can tell me this vaccine has not helped me.”


Patient Perspectives Series Nancy Amato - Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic Cancer patient Nancy Amato discusses her treatment at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center -- and then runs a 5K race with her family and friends.

Amato suffered from pancreatitis for about 10 years before being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2006, when she was given a life expectancy of six months. When she told doctors her daughter would be graduating from college the following May, they told her not to plan on being there.

In May 2007, following surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, other oncologists suggested she pursue palliative care options.

That’s when Amato and her husband decided to contact Daniel Laheru, M.D., at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and inquire about the vaccine. He invited her to come to Baltimore for testing at Johns Hopkins to see if she would be a good candidate.

Through it all, Nancy said, Dr. Laheru “never took away hope.” He told her if she turned out not to be eligible for the vaccine, they would move on to another plan.

Nancy received her first series of vaccines in June 2007 and has received boosters since then.

“I didn’t care what they told me about the (vaccine) study,” she said. “I was going to do it, because no one else offered me anything except palliative care.”

For Amato, the vaccine has helped prolong her life. She not only attended her daughter’s college graduation but also her son’s college graduation in May 2009.

Amato is optimistic that Laheru, medical oncologist Elizabeth Jaffee, M.D., and chief pathologist Ralph Hruban, M.D., are working toward a cure.

“I am so grateful to those at Johns Hopkins who have touched my life,” she says. “Drs. Laheru and Jaffee have worked tirelessly to make the vaccine available to patients… If I knew then what I know now, I would have started my journey at Johns Hopkins. Kimmel Cancer Center physicians and donor Skip Viragh have given me the gift of life. I was able to celebrate milestones with my beautiful family. I even ran a 5K for pancreas cancer awareness. But I don’t want to be the miracle for pancreatic cancer. I want to be the norm. I want a cure.”

Jaffee recently told Amato she should stop thinking about her cancer in stages and just live her life.

Watch Amato as she ran her first 5K race to benefit pancreatic cancer research.


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