Pancreatic cancer and sarcoma survivor grateful for treatment at MD Anderson
When retired Florida physician Bob Wagar, M.D., was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and sarcoma, he knew he would've felt comfortable seeking care at the hospital where he used to work. But Bob also knew seeking care at MD Anderson was the best option, especially because he had been treated here before.
“There’s more to it than having a good surgeon,” Bob says. “The team approach at MD Anderson, and of course their record – they’re No. 1 in the country – and how many sarcoma specialists they have, how many people with sarcoma they see … it’s worth it.”
Coming to MD Anderson for a Whipple procedure
Bob first visited MD Anderson in 2015 after his doctor in Florida found precancerous cysts on his pancreas. Bob called MD Anderson and made an appointment. He saw pancreatic cancer surgeon Matthew Katz, M.D., who continued to monitor him with annual checkups.
In October 2017, Katz told Bob things had changed. Bob’s pancreas was full of cysts, and he would need surgery to remove his pancreas.
Before surgery, Katz recommended Bob meet with endocrinologist Sonali Thosani, M.D., whom he calls “essential” in planning for the control of his diabetes after surgery.
“She was the one who got me taking insulin after the surgery and showed me how to do it,” Bob says. “Even though I’m a doctor, it’s always a little different when you’re doing it on yourself. We felt that she had very good patient skills and got us on the right track with the diabetes.”
Bob scheduled his surgery for the following January, and on his way to Houston from Florida, he was caught in an ice storm in Baytown, Texas, where cars were stopped along I-10.
“I sent a message to Dr. Katz, and he got back to me in one minute,” Bob says. “He said, ‘Don’t worry. The place is shut down. We’ll get you taken care of.’”
Once the bridges on I-10 reopened later that day, Bob made his way to MD Anderson where he underwent scans and tests for the rest of the week. The following Monday, he underwent a Whipple procedure which involves removing the head of the pancreas, the distal bile duct, the gallbladder, regional lymph nodes, and the duodenum — the first part of the small intestine that connects to the stomach. Due to the extent of Bob’s disease, Katz removed most of his pancreas, saving a small portion of the tail that produces the most insulin. Within two days after the operation, Bob was walking around the hospital.
Choosing MD Anderson again for a sarcoma diagnosis
All was well until three years later when Bob discovered a lump in his right thigh in the spring of 2021. Bob thought since he and his wife, Robin, walked about five miles a day, he may have pulled a muscle.
An MRI showed sarcoma. After being evaluated at his home hospital, Bob called MD Anderson once again.
“You would’ve thought Bob was Dr. Moon’s only patient,” Robin says. “He took his time answering all of Bob’s questions and didn’t rush him.”
Bob underwent surgery the following October to remove the tumor in his thigh. He didn’t experience any pain and was out of the hospital six days later.
Gratitude for exceptional care
From his first meeting with Moon to his surgery and after, Bob says he received nothing but world-class care at MD Anderson. He was especially impressed with Moon’s physician assistant, Craig Roorda, and wrote a letter to thank him.
Bob says Roorda was always prompt in responding to a question or request and would often call just to check in on Bob after his surgery.
“We have never experienced this kind of care anywhere before,” Bob wrote in his letter. “He is not just putting in time and waiting for a day off. He is making a difference in people’s lives.”
After surgery, Bob got an off-the-shelf brace that pressed against his foot so much, he developed a sore. Roorda helped him to an orthotic store where they were able to reform the brace to better fit his foot.
Roorda’s kindness and that of other MD Anderson employees have left a lasting impact on Bob and Robin.
"From the people who brought dinner trays during my stay to Dr. Katz back in 2018, Dr. Moon, Dr. Thosani, the nursing staff; they're all super people," Bob says.
Robin agrees. “We’ve met a lot of good people at other places, but the thing is, at MD Anderson, everyone is so helpful,” she says. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”