SURVIVORSHIP Through our compassionate and cutting-edge care, the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center is able to offer hope to the thousands of patients who walk through our doors each year. The stories below shared by survivors, are just a few examples of patients whose lives have been impacted by our cancer center.
Denny LaVercombe Denny LaVercombe is beating the odds. When the Helena resident was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, doctors gave him only six months to live—a year at the most. That was six years ago.
Thanks to the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, Mr. LaVercombe is a member of a rare group—only 5 percent of patients with pancreatic cancer survive ﬁve years after diagnosis.
An Unusual Tan Mr. LaVercombe ﬁrst noticed something was wrong in April 2005. He had just retired from a long career in marketing and was looking forward to traveling and spending time with Jan, his wife of 46 years. At one of his grandchildren’s baseball games, however, Mr. LaVercombe received some unusual compliments.
“People kept coming up to me and saying, ‘You must be playing a lot of golf lately because you’ve got a tan,’” Mr. LaVercombe recalls. “But my wife said it was yellow, not tan.” Mr. LaVercombe was diagnosed with jaundice and sent to a local Birmingham hospital for more tests to determine its cause. His doctors discovered a tumor in the head of his pancreas, but they were conﬁdent that the tumor was small and could be removed with surgery. However, things did not go exactly as planned.
Mr. LaVercombe had been in surgery for only an hour when the doctors found that the tumor was actually the size of a man’s ﬁst—too large for them to remove. “They basically closed me up and said I had six months to a year to live,” Mr. LaVercombe recalls. “They suggested chemotherapy and radiation to extend my life as much as I could.” Mr. LaVercombe quickly began chemotherapy and had six weeks of radiation therapy, but he felt unsatisﬁed and discouraged with his progress. That was when his friends and family suggested he get a second opinion and referred him to UAB.
A Will to Live Within two weeks, Mr. LaVercombe had an appointment at the Cancer Center with former UAB surgeon Selwyn Vickers, M.D. Because of the location of the tumor and Mr. LaVercombe’s age, the prospect of surgery was daunting.
“Dr. Vickers wanted to know how badly I wanted to live, because the surgery is difﬁcult and so is the recovery,” Mr. LaVercombe says. “But my wife was my biggest supporter. She said we were going to ﬁght it to the last day. When you have that kind of emotional support, that’s half the battle.”
So in January 2006, Mr. LaVercombe had a Whipple procedure, which successfully removed his gallbladder, common bile duct, part of the duodenum and the head of the pancreas. He was told while still in the hospital that he was cancer- free. Doctors cautioned, however, that his aggressive cancer had a high risk of recurrence. Sure enough, scans six months later showed that Mr. LaVercombe’s cancer had returned, and he began another round of chemotherapy. This time he was under the care of Cancer Center associate scientist Tina Wood, M.D., who prescribed a more aggressive regimen of chemotherapy.
TAB SIX | SURVIVORSHIP patient guide