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Home > Our Patients > Rob's Story: A Customized Vaccine for Pancreatic Cancer

Rob's Story: A Customized Vaccine for Pancreatic Cancer

When Rob's cancer worsened, he wanted the best doctor. So he came to UVA, where he got the benefit of an entire team of cancer specialists who applied their collective expertise to his case and created a more effective treatment plan, including a melanoma vaccine they developed. Eight years later, he's still grateful for the results.

Rob's Story: A Customized Vaccine for Pancreatic Cancer

My battle with cancer started in 1994. There was an unusual mole on the back of my left shoulder blade. I had it removed, and they told me it was stage 2 melanoma

Things went along pretty well until the middle of 2001, when I noticed a growth under my left arm. I had it removed and the biopsy revealed that it had moved on to stage 3 melanoma. Plus, it had gotten into my lymph node. 

So, I had some further tests done, and when the results came back, it turned out that I had a 5 cm tumor on my pancreas. Everyone was in disbelief. They diagnosed me with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. That’s when I was referred to Dr. Reid Adams.

I met with him and he reviewed my whole history, my CT scans and everything. He proposed doing a Whipple procedure. It’s a major operation, and Dr. Adams has performed more of these procedures than just about anyone in the world.

After the Whipple Surgery, a Recurrence 

I had the surgery on January 4, 2002. It took over 10 hours, and when I woke up, there were all these staples running down the middle of my stomach. I started thanking God right there because this meant the doctor was able to get all the cancer.

Over the next few days, I got better, to the point where I didn’t need the catheter and the incision drains. This stuff usually has to be in there a whole month. I was still on morphine for the pain, but after about a week, I didn’t need anything that strong.

I thought everything was going to be fine. But after a few follow-ups, the tumor had reappeared. It was very discouraging. The doctors went back in and took it out. But this time, Dr. Craig Slingluff used the tumor to make a vaccine specifically for my cancer. I didn’t even know they could do that!

The vaccine is done in batches. And when we found one that did what it was supposed to do, it meant several weeks of immunotherapy. I got pretty good at giving myself injections, and Dr. Slingluff administered the vaccine treatments.

High-Dose Radiation Treatments

Later, an upper torso scan showed another tumor, which happens, I guess. They removed it and the doctor suggested radiation in five high-dose treatments, which I did five different times. Then in the fall of 2002, I thought I felt another tumor and had surgery done to remove it.

But it turned out to be scar tissue from the other six surgeries. You can imagine my relief. I can live with scar tissue!

Now, here I am, eight years later. I still go back for exams every six months. But I’m here for my wife and children and I couldn’t ask for more than that. I can honestly say that if it weren’t for the staff at UVA, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

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