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Kirsten Shaffer– Appendix Cancer Patient Story

Image of Kirsten and Gil Shaffer

In the summer of 2016, then-56-year-old Kirsten Shaffer of Westmoreland County decided to schedule her annual physical exam during a week off from work. Her primary care provider told her she was in good shape but asked Kirsten if she had health complaints.

Kirsten told her PCP about some recent abdominal bloating, and she quickly had a computerized tomography (CT) scan before leaving to run a few errands. Less than two hours later, she got a call, asking her to return to the office.

“I called my husband in tears,” she recalls. “I told him he needed to come with me because I was about to get bad news.”

Kirsten’s PCP had a strong idea what the issue was but encouraged her to see an oncologist for further testing. Those tests revealed cancer in her appendix and right kidney. 

The Path to UPMC

Kirsten’s next appointment was with medical oncologist Terry Evans, MD, at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, Excela Health. Dr. Evans reviewed her biopsy results and referred her for specialty care at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center’s flagship location in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

“After arriving in the city, the team I met with quickly provided me with an aggressive treatment plan and explained what needed to be done for me to beat this cancer,” Kirsten explains.

Less than a week later, M. Haroon Choudry, MD, performed surgery and removed Kirsten’s appendix, spleen, and gallbladder along with portions of her colon and right kidney. This was followed by hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemoperfusion (HIPEC), a procedure in which doctors deliver high doses of heated chemo directly into a patient’s abdomen in an effort to treat any small cancer cells that remain after the surgery.

“I remember that this was a big deal and definitely not for the faint of heart,” Kirsten says. “But I had faith in my medical team, and they took good care of me.”

The Road to Recovery

Following her procedure, Kirsten spent 15 days in UPMC Shadyside before returning home. By October, she was ready to start outpatient chemo treatments with Dr. Evans.

Kirsten still comes back to Shadyside every three months to meet with Dr. Choudry and Shannon Altpeter, PA-C.

“They’ve been with me since the surgery,” Kirsten explains. “I really appreciate how open and honest they are, always willing to take the time to answer my questions.”

Now equipped with a new outlook on life, Kirsten describes herself as “thriving.” She gets to spend more time with her grandchildren, has opportunities to travel with her husband, and she even bought a boat.

“Your priorities change after going through an experience like I did,” Kirsten says with a smile. “Sometimes you need things to get shaken up a bit so you can then sit back and think about what really matters most. I’ll be forever grateful to my friends, my family, and my care team at UPMC.”

Kirsten’s treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.