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Sonnhilde Mullican- Appendix Cancer Patient Story

Image of Sonnhilde Mullican and Max

Meet Sonnhilde Mullican

Sonnhilde Mullican knows how devastating cancer can be for a family. Her husband died from the disease in the summer of 2018, and she remembers the conversation that soon followed.

“I told my children, ‘If I ever get cancer, I do not want chemo,’” Sonnhilde recalls. “It didn’t work for Dad.”

Two months later, she visited her doctor for what was supposed to be a routine check-up but asked him about a small bubble on her stomach. The then-60-year-old was referred to a gynecologist, and after undergoing some tests, Sonnhilde learned she had cancer.

Living in Richmond, Va. at the time, she underwent a hysterectomy and appendectomy but was told she would need a debulking surgery and hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemoperfusion (HIPEC), a procedure in which doctors remove all visible cancer and 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.

Choosing UPMC

Sonnhilde was given the choice of two hospitals where her specialized surgery could be performed, and she chose UPMC Shadyside in Pittsburgh, close to where her sister lives in Altoona. She was impressed by her initial meeting with M. Haroon Choudry, MD, and Shannon Altpeter, PA-C, at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

“They thoroughly explained the surgery and helped me realize it was the right decision for me,” Sonnhilde explains. “I didn’t want my children to lose two parents within the span of one year.”

In April of 2019, Dr. Choudry removed Sonnhilde’s gallbladder and spleen, as well as evidence of cancer on her other abdominal organs, as part of a more than 10-hour procedure. Sonnhilde then underwent HIPEC and spent two weeks in the hospital.

After her discharge, she moved in with her sister for a couple of months and has since relocated to Pennsylvania, permanently.

Life After Cancer

Now cancer free, Sonnhilde says she looks at the world a little differently after surviving such a scary situation.

“There’s not a whole lot that bothers me anymore. I don’t worry as much, especially about material things, which aren’t going to be meaningful at the end of my life.” 

Her focus is now on her friends and her family, including her grandson, Max, who was born right after the loss of her husband. Sonnhilde believes her hope in watching him grow up served as motivation to get better as quickly as possible.

She’s also incredibly thankful for the care she received at UPMC.

“Thank God I was led to Dr. Choudry and Shannon. They are the most caring people, just amazing. Every single person who came into my hospital room was top-notch and made me feel so comfortable. I couldn’t have found a better place for my surgery.”

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