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Katha Elser — Pancreatic Cancer Patient Story

Image of Kathryn with her husband.

Katha, a retired teacher from Hughesville, was being monitored by her gastroenterologist for a cyst on her pancreas. When the follow up MRI changed In November 2022, she underwent an endoscopic biopsy, which confirmed pancreatic cancer. Before leaving the gastroenterologist’s office, they had an appointment set up at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Williamsport.

“When I was diagnosed, I was in shock,” Katha says. She had already been seeing outpatient behavioral health at UPMC Williamsport Divine Providence Campus for other reasons, but the day after her diagnosis, she had a routine visit. “They were able to help me through internalizing and accepting the pancreatic cancer diagnosis, which was extremely helpful,” says Katha.

Katha was very impressed with the quick access and getting an appointment with Abdalla Sholi, MD, within 3 days from her surgery.

In December 2022, Katha started chemotherapy. She had surgery which removed 3 quarters of her pancreas, spleen and 24 lymph nodes removed via robotic laparoscopy.

“Within 2 weeks, I was back on the treadmill at the gym, so I felt good,” says Katha.

Pancreatic cancer can destroy the insulin-making cells, which can lead to diabetes. Katha’s blood work was monitored throughout her treatment and her blood sugar was high, so she was referred to endocrinology, where she was put on insulin to help regulate her blood sugar.

“In between chemotherapy treatments, I enjoyed the YMCA LiveStrong® program at the Eastern Lycoming YMCA, a small group cancer survivorship workout program,” says Katha.

Image of Kathryn, her husband, and two dogs.Katha’s last chemotherapy treatment was in August 2023. “UPMC Hillman Cancer Center was amazing, I was never turned away for any questions I had, and I had a lot.”

Katha understands the gains that have been made in cancer research in the past 20 years, she is grateful for the care she received at UPMC.

“I could not have gotten better care anywhere else. Nurses were unbelievable, they treated me like a queen. They provided emotional support, which is a high standard, and treated me like family,” says Katha.

Katha enjoyed UPMC Hillman Cancer Center’s therapy dogs during her treatment. She initiated conversations with the handlers, “the dogs were relaxing and took my mind off the tubes during treatment,” says Katha.

She is now able to get back to doing things that she put on hold during cancer treatments. One of those is walking with her husband and dogs, Mia and Katie. She’s also looking forward to getting back to ballroom dancing with her husband.

For more information on UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, visit

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