In October 2012, Cheryl Edmonds, 54, got news that changed life as she knew it.
After experiencing some stomach pains, she was scheduled to have a CT scan done; her husband of 22 years and a retired police lieutenant, George, was having some continuing GI issues as well and needed to have a CT scan done too, so the doctor got them both in on the same day.
"On October 23, the doctor called to tell George it was pancreatic cancer,” she says, adding that it was stage 4. "We were sad, but our faith is strong, and we pulled together with our church family and friends. A candlelight vigil was held to raise awareness [for George].”
What came next was a shock to all: Two days later on Oct. 25, her physician called to schedule an immediate appointment with her and delivered her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.
Olugbenga (Gbenga) Olowokure, MD, UC Cancer Institute physician and UC Health oncologist, got the call that an appointment was needed, but instead of looking at his calendar or forwarding the call to his administrative assistant, he said to bring Edmonds and her family to his office right away.
"We got the news about 5 p.m., and we didn’t leave Dr. Gbenga until about 9 p.m.,” Edmonds says. "He took the time to explain things to us and answer our questions, easing our fears and then he led us in prayer, which really impressed us.”
Both George’s and Cheryl’s tumors were inoperable stage 4 tumors, so they began chemotherapy treatment and participation in clinical trials.
George took a turn for the worse last winter and died in January 2013. But Cheryl and their sons, Damon and Kelly, can still smile and laugh about who George was to tthe family.
"He loved us so much. He made sure my mom was taken care of before he let go,” Damon says.
Now, Cheryl is on a chemotherapy that seems to be working—her tumor is shrinking—and additionally, she has energy and an appetite, improving her overall quality of life.
"Dr. Gbenga really worked with me until he found something that helped me and let me live a somewhat normal life,” she says. "He was always there for George, too. We couldn’t ask for a better physician. He’s just wonderful.”
Damon and Kelly couldn’t agree more. They are Cheryl’s biggest supporters and want to do anything they can to let people know that pancreatic cancer is out there and it’s real.
"We just wish more people knew about it, as it is the fourth-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.,” added Damon. "We’re so happy she’s doing well, and we have God, Dr. Gbenga and his team to thank for it.”
Olowokure says when one considers that in 2013 about 45,000 patients will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the United States, it is extremely uncommon for an unrelated married couple to get a pancreatic cancer diagnosis just days apart.
"Incidences of pancreatic cancer are roughly equal in both sexes, but African-Americans have a higher incidence when compared to other Americans and remain underrepresented in clinical trials,” says Olowokure. "I’m thankful for the Edmonds and their willingness to participate in UC-based clinical trials and for Cheryl and the wonderful care she gave to her husband when things were hard for him, despite dealing with her own illness. She is the epitome of a true hero.”