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Judy Pinchok — Pancreatic Cancer Story

Judy Pinchok — Pancreatic Cancer Story

Judy Pinchok had the misfortune of developing a nasty urinary tract infection in early 2020 before the outbreak of COVID-19. When her skin began to turn a yellow hue, she ignored it believing it was a side effect from her powerful antibiotic — plus her cholesterol medicine and the turmeric she took for inflammation.

As Pennsylvania went into lockdown for the pandemic, Judy stuck close to her home and even cancelled her annual checkup. But in early April, she happened to see a neighbor, who is a physician’s assistant.

“I felt fine. I didn’t think anything about my skin color,” says Judy, 80, a widowed grandmother of three from Sarver, Pennsylvania. “But she took one look at me and said, ‘You’re jaundiced! Call your doctor and get a blood test immediately!’”

The retired corporate sales manager contacted her primary care doctor, who quickly ordered bloodwork. When the results came in, he sent her straight to UPMC St. Margaret’s Emergency Department where a CT scan detected a tumor resting on her portal vein, which carries blood from the GI tract, gallbladder, pancreas, and spleen to the liver. That same night, Judy was transported by ambulance to UPMC Presbyterian where Amer H. Zureikat, MD, took over her care.

Dr. Zureikat is chief of surgical oncology at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and vice chair of surgery for surgical oncology in the UPMC Department of Surgery. He is an expert in pancreatic and other gastrointestinal (GI) cancers.

“Dr. Zureikat is a rock star. He is the best of the best, and I’m blessed to have him as my doctor,” says Judy.

Dr. Zureikat advised Judy to first undergo chemotherapy, followed by surgery. Before leaving UPMC Presbyterian, a port was implanted so Judy could begin nearly two months of chemotherapy closer to home. She traveled to UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Natrona Heights for treatments under the care of medical oncologist John Lech, DO.

In August, Judy returned to UPMC Presbyterian where Dr. Zureikat performed the complex Whipple procedure. During the delicate, six-hour surgery, he removed her gall bladder, appendix, duodenum (the first part of the small intestine), bile duct, part of her portal vein, plus 50% of her pancreas and 10% of her stomach. He also removed 35 lymph nodes from her abdomen — one of which had cancer cells. Due to the size of the tumor and the cancerous lymph node, it was determined she had Stage IIB pancreatic cancer.

“Dr. Zureikat is the most amazing doctor. Removing the tumor when it was attached to the portal vein was very dicey,” says Judy. “He does extraordinary work. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe him.”

In fall 2020, Judy returned to UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Natrona Heights to begin a second round of chemotherapy treatments and about six weeks of radiation.

“I don’t know what my future holds, but I feel good. And I’ve never been in any pain,” says Judy. “I’m grateful for the wonderful doctors and the wonderful staff at UPMC who have taken care of me. They are all phenomenal. I couldn’t have had a better experience.”

Judy's treatment and results may not be representative of similar cases.