May 26, 2023
Husband and wife undergo same pancreatic cancer surgery
BY Katie Tyler
Tim Leary still remembers the shock he felt after he was diagnosed with two cancers in two years – prostate cancer and pancreatic adenocarcinoma. The feeling continued when his wife, Emily, was diagnosed with a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor that would require the same lifesaving surgery.
Taking on the roles of patient and caretaker allowed Tim and Emily to learn and heal together in unexpected ways.
Two unexcepted cancer diagnoses
Tim worked four blocks from the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, and walked past the area for six months. Nearly 10 years later in March 2011, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent a radical prostatectomy. In May 2012, he received a stage IV pancreatic cancer diagnosis and underwent chemotherapy at MD Anderson and near his home in Louisiana. The World Trade Center Health Program has certified his 2001 exposure to the 9/11 site as the cause for his cancer diagnoses.
After Tim received radiation therapy, he underwent a Whipple procedure in March 2013. This complex operation removes the head of the pancreas, part of the stomach, the first part of the small intestine, the gallbladder and the bile duct. Once Tim recovered, he underwent four more months of chemotherapy.
Emily was right beside Tim while he healed, helping him take his medicine, making meals and following up with appointments. Tim continued to work throughout his treatment and even built a deck in their backyard. In 2022, he had a preventive procedure after developing three abscesses on his liver. Liver abscesses are not a common complication from Whipple surgery and are often caused by an infection or bacteria. He was hospitalized for one week for each abscess, followed by oral antibiotics at home. During his stay, he took advantage of acupuncture and meditation services through MD Anderson’s Integrative Medicine Center.
“The main thing I tell cancer patients is: don’t give up. I was frustrated by my diagnoses, but I remained positive and ignored the statistics. Every case is different,” says Tim. “You have to push yourself, just a little. Give your body a chance to be strong again. I started walking 1 mile, then 1.5 miles, and now 2 miles daily.”
Same lifesaving surgery for pancreatic cancer
Emily was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2021, after experiencing an unrelated pain in the right side of her body. A CT scan showed a 2-centimeter tumor in the head of her pancreas. The couple contacted MD Anderson immediately.
Although an initial biopsy showed no cancer cells, Matthew H.G. Katz, M.D., called for further testing. The diagnosis was confirmed: Emily would need a Whipple procedure, too.
After Katz successfully performed her surgery, Emily recovered with Tim by her side. During her recovery, she also experienced the same liver abscess from the same bacteria as Tim. Emily's liver abscess required a three-week hospital stay and antibiotics. After her husband’s experience, she knew acupuncture and meditation services were available to help her heal.
Though Emily had supported her husband through the same procedure, she found going through the experience herself was different and tougher than she expected. “It was tough, but Dr. Katz and his team helped us through. I have so much respect for nurses and all caregivers. It’s incredible the work they do,” says Emily. “We believe that MD Anderson is the top cancer hospital; there was no second opinion for us. Our surgery is uncommon, but MD Anderson does many of them and we took a lot of comfort in that.”
Life after cancer treatment
Today, Tim and Emily are both in remission. Tim has some longer-lasting side effects like neuropathy, a vitamin D deficiency and diabetes that he manages with medication, diet and exercise. The pair travel to MD Anderson every year for check-ups. They enjoy time with their friends, family and grandchildren, and stay active by walking and traveling. Both are grateful for the care they gave each other and for the staff they met at MD Anderson.
“I never had a bad experience with anyone,” Emily says. “The people at MD Anderson are amazing and always so friendly and wonderful.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
Our surgery is uncommon, but MD Anderson does many of them and we took a lot of comfort in that.
Survivor & Caregiver