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Pancreatic Cancer: Wonda’s Story

Florida Woman Says Hopkins Gave Her Hope and Best Possible Outcome 

Wonda’s Story: Highlights

  • A CT scan revealed a tumor on the head of Florida resident Wonda White’s pancreas.
  • She traveled 1,000 miles to the Pancreatic Cancer Multidisciplinary Clinic at Johns Hopkins.
  • Dr. Jin He and a team of pancreatic cancer specialists successfully treated her with the Whipple procedure. 
Wonda with her Corgi puppy Wonda and her new Corgi puppy, “JohnHe,” whom she named in honor of Johns Hopkins and her surgeon, Jin He, M.D., Ph.D. The puppy was a gift to celebrate her one-year survival. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on April 14, 2016.

When she’s not doting on her two cats and working as a math tutor at an elementary school in her small hometown in Florida, Wonda White enjoys walking, running and hiking with her husband, Howard. That is, until the fall of 2015, when this bubbly mother of three grown sons started having digestive problems and not feeling quite right.

Her internist put her on medications, first for acid reflux and then for an ulcer. Neither helped. It wasn’t long before Wonda could barely eat at all. Finally, during a physical exam when she complained of “hurting everywhere,” her doctor decided to order a CT scan. Wonda vividly remembers the call she got from her doctor on April 14, 2016, telling her she had a mass on her pancreas.

Johns Hopkins: Performing the Most Pancreatic Cancer Surgeries in the Country

Wonda immediately went online to learn what she could about pancreatic cancer. In the course of her research, she discovered the Pancreatic Cancer Multidisciplinary Clinic at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins. Rather than wait for a test with a gastroenterologist in Florida to confirm what her doctor already suspected, Wonda called the multidisciplinary clinic in Baltimore the next day.

Johns Hopkins performs more pancreas cancer surgeries than any other institution in the country. The primary surgical treatment for pancreatic cancer like Wonda’s, which involves the head of the pancreas, is the Whipple procedure.

Every Patient Is Important

Wonda found this information reassuring as she made that first phone call. She spoke first to clinic triage nurse Mary Hodgin, R.N., and was immediately impressed by her warmth and thoroughness.

“I felt like Mary just grabbed my hand and let me know, ‘I’ve got you,’” Wonda says.

Hodgin says she tries to treat every patient that way.

Wonda underwent her first operation in May 2016, during which the surgeon decided the tumor could not safely be removed because of its proximity to a crucial vein and artery. Instead of removing the tumor, a double bypass procedure was performed to work around the obstruction caused by the tumor. Her medical team remained positive and recommended postsurgical chemotherapy, with the goal of stopping the growth of the tumor and trying surgery again.

Promising Prognosis

Jin Le with WondaWonda and Johns Hopkins surgical oncologist Jin He, who performed the second of two surgeries that Wonda underwent at Johns Hopkins for treatment of her pancreatic cancer.

Back home in Florida, Wonda says she clung to that hope during five rounds of chemo. Johns Hopkins surgical oncologist Jin He, M.D., Ph.D., reviewed her CT scans after she completed the chemo and delivered some good news. Just as the team had hoped, the tumor had not grown — a very good sign, he said.

“I told her that I would be willing to go in again and see if the tumor could be [removed] by doing surgery,” says He, one of five surgical oncologists on the clinic team. “The prognosis for this kind of disease is dependent on a successful complete surgical resection and her response to chemotherapy. I told her that her tumor had a good response to chemotherapy. She was very excited.”

Accompanied by her husband, Wonda again flew from Florida to Baltimore to undergo a second operation on Nov. 29, 2016. During the lengthy, complex operation, He performed a Whipple procedure, removed Wonda’s remaining pancreas and her cancerous gallbladder, spleen and duodenum — the part of the intestine that connects the stomach to the small bowel.

Wonda with her familyWonda at home in Florida with her family and Batman, one of her two cats. (L to R) Son Russell and his wife, Rachel; Wonda; her husband, Howard; and sons Parker and Reed.

Back Home and Grateful

After six weeks, Wonda returned to work and began four more rounds of chemotherapy. The removal of her pancreas means she is now diabetic, so that has been an adjustment, she says. The lack of a pancreas also means she now needs to take a pill to help her digest food. Her last CT scan at the end of March 2017 showed no sign of cancer, she says. She has another scan scheduled in three months.

Deeply faithful, Wonda believes divine providence played a role in bringing her to He and Johns Hopkins.

“I’m very grateful for him,” she says. “The time and dedication that Dr. He and his whole team showed…it was just amazing. We were able to come to Johns Hopkins and seek the best.” 

“The time and dedication that He and his whole team showed…it was just amazing. We were able to come to Johns Hopkins and seek the best.”
~ Wonda White  

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer death in the U.S. Pancreatic cancer occurs when a cell in the pancreas is damaged and this malignant (cancer) cell starts to grow out of control. There are several types of pancreatic cancers.

Learn more about pancreatic cancer.

Wonda’s  Treatment Team

Learn more about Wonda’s surgeon Jin He, M.D., Ph.D.

Pancreatic Cancer Center Services

The Pancreatic Cancer Multidisciplinary Clinic at Johns Hopkins offers patients a complete, comprehensive examination, including imaging tests such as CT scans, by some of the top cancer experts in the country. The service brings together medical and radiation oncologists, surgeons, radiologists, pathologists, nutritionists and others to diagnose patients, educate patients about their options and create personalized treatment plans.

Learn more about the Pancreatic Cancer Multidisciplinary Clinic at Johns Hopkins.

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