May 9, 2010
Bev Sodemann, 58, is living proof of how research brings hope to so many lives.
After severe stomach pain sent her to the hospital in September 2008, Sodemann was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This hard-to-detect, fast-spreading cancer often has a grim outcome. But not for Sodemann.
In 2010, she is busy substitute teaching, taking her grandchildren on adventures and traveling, as she continues to participate in a clinical study through the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine.
“The opportunity to participate in a clinical study was one of the reasons I chose to go to Siteman for treatment,” Sodemann says. “At first, I didn’t know anything about pancreatic cancer except that the outlook was grim for patients. My daughter did a lot of research about where I should go for treatment and looked at places around the country. We found Siteman was the best for pancreatic cancer care.”
Siteman has one of the highest-volume pancreatic cancer programs in the United States.
Her Decision to Help Advance Care
Sodemann’s first step in treatment was surgery. William Hawkins, MD, a Washington University gastrointestinal surgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Siteman who specializes in pancreatic cancer, performed a Whipple procedure, a complex operation that includes removing the head of the pancreas, the gallbladder, the common bile ducts, most of the duodenum and part of the stomach. Washington University surgeons have extensive experience in performing this procedure with extremely low rates of complications and mortality.
Sodemann qualified for a clinical study that included traditional chemotherapy along with a vaccine designed to stimulate the immune system to attack cancer cells. In January 2009, she began sixth months of chemotherapy complemented by the vaccine. While her chemotherapy is now over, she will continue to receive the vaccine once a month for the next five years.
“I consider participating in the study as my safety net that keeps me well,” Sodemann says. “I feel so good right now. Joining the clinical study was a no-brainer for me. I decided to do it for every chance it gave me and because it will help others — and they could be my family members. Without clinical studies, doctors can’t make advances in care.
“Every Day Is a Gift”
Surprisingly, Sodemann sees her experience with pancreatic cancer as a blessing and is now living life to the fullest. “It has allowed me to see so much good in the world,” she says. “I’ve written things down on paper that I want to do in life and am making sure I do them, rather than putting them off.” At the top of her list is taking her daughter and grandchildren to Disneyland and Sea World this summer. She also plans to go to North Carolina to zipline, after white-water rafting there last summer. And in the fall, she’s planning a much-anticipated trip with her husband to Hawaii.
“I know statistically, pancreatic cancer can come back,” Sodemann says. “But Dr. Hawkins told me not to worry about statistics because all I have to be is the one to survive. That advice has stayed with me. So I’m not really worrying about cancer — it gets easier with each passing month. No matter what happens down the road, I’m grateful for all the time I have. Every day is a gift.”
Sodemann is pleased to help other people through her story of survival. “When people see me doing so well, it gives them hope,” she says. “That’s why I’m so appreciative of donor gifts that help fund research. When one person is helped, it ripples out to so many more people. Through gifts, we can make important strides in care.”