Beating the Odds: Dan Peterson’s journey with
pancreatic cancer (Autumn 2009)
Miracles can happen. Dan Peterson is living proof.
In late 2002, Dan began having severe pain in his upper abdomen. After a few days
with no relief, he and his wife, Donna, went to the emergency room at a local hospital.
Dan endured several tests, including a CAT scan, and was diagnosed with pancreatitis
— inflammation of the pancreas. One of the medical professionals noted that there
was “something” on the CAT scan results but did not suggest any follow up, and Dan
was sent home.
Two days later Dan returned to the hospital, still in pain, and was admitted. After
a few more tests, Dan’s doctor walked into the room and told his family he had bad
"It was like the air was sucked out of the room," Donna said, still fighting back
tears from that painful memory. "He said that Dan had stage-four pancreatic cancer
and he needed to go home and settle his affairs because he only had a few months
Dan’s pancreas had an adenocarcinoma, a cancer originating in glandular tissue,
and it had spread to two locations in his liver. There was no talk of oncologists,
surgery or other treatments. The doctor suggested that Dan and his family start
Dan decided he wanted to go to El Paso, Texas, to visit family for a week, but the
joy of even small things seemed to have no meaning. While out shopping, they admired
some handsome sweaters, but when Donna asked Dan if he wanted one, she saw the sadness
in his face. "I just had a sense of a lost future," Dan remembered. "Somehow long-term
planning didn’t make sense."
Donna said that the only thing keeping her together at that point was that she had
to be strong for their five children. "I couldn’t eat; I couldn’t take a deep breath;
I couldn’t imagine life without him."
Dan went back to his job as a human resources director for the Central Arkansas
Veterans Healthcare System and contacted his friend, Nick Lang, M.D., a surgical
oncologist who was chief of staff for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (DVA)
hospital at the time and who now is chief medical officer for the University of
Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). Lang contacted Laura Hutchins, M.D., director
of the UAMS division of Hematology/Oncology and director of clinical research for
the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.
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