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In the Face of Pancreatic Cancer, Matthew Found Hope

matthew hope

Matthew Hope, 61, is back to saving stranded motorists. As the owner of Hope’s Collision & Towing, Tamaqua, he knows firsthand how grateful drivers are when he arrives on the scene. In his own life, Hope is grateful for his Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute care team who came to his rescue and helped him beat pancreatic cancer in 2018. “I thank God every day,” he says.

Energy drain

Hope’s journey began in spring 2017, when he noticed he was more tired than normal and losing weight unexpectedly. “I just wasn’t myself,” Hope says. “By 3 p.m. in the afternoon, I’d be wiped out. I felt something wasn’t right.”

An incident during a family vacation in July 2017 was the tipping point. “I went water skiing, but I could barely stay up in the water,” he says. “I knew it was time to get checked.”

Unexpected diagnosis

After tests at a Tamaqua-area hospital, he was transferred to Lehigh Valley Hospital–Cedar Crest where a computed tomography (CT) scan found a 6-centimeter mass on his pancreas. A biopsy confirmed his worst fear: pancreatic cancer.

“I lost my father-in-law to pancreatic cancer, and another friend a few months before. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” he says.

Assembling Matthew’s dream team

Hope was introduced to a multidisciplinary care team at Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute, led by surgical oncologist Jeffrey Brodsky, MD, and hematologist oncologist Maged Khalil, MD. His team also included experts from radiation oncology, genetics, clinical research, nursing, radiology, pathology, nutrition and social work. “Everyone was so warm and welcoming, and full of concern and care,” Hope says.

Chemo paves way for surgery

The team concluded Hope’s first line of treatment was chemotherapy to clear lymph nodes of cancer and help to downsize his tumor. He was enrolled in a National Cancer Institute (NCI) clinical trial.

“Matthew was assigned to aggressive chemotherapy with four different drugs,” says Khalil. “He handled treatment very well and completed six cycles over three months.”

It worked. All 19 lymph nodes that were tested came back negative for cancer markers, and his tumor shrunk to 1.2 centimeters, a 90 percent improvement.

Hope for surgical success

In January 2018, Hope was scheduled for surgery. Brodsky is skilled in the Whipple procedure, a complex gastrointestinal (GI) surgery that is done to remove pancreatic cancer while helping to ensure function of connected GI organs.

“I was crying before surgery, and I asked Dr. Brodsky, ‘Doctor, can you save my life?’ and he looked straight at me and said, ‘Of course I can.’ He gave me some glimmer of hope, and that’s all I needed to hear. I trusted him so much,” Hope says.

Road to survivorship

Brodsky was able to successfully remove the tumor, and Hope steeled himself for another six rounds of chemotherapy. That would be his final step – Hope has been cancer-free for almost two years.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years now, and we’re finally seeing long-term survivors,” Brodsky says. “Almost 50 percent of patients used to succumb to disease in less than one year. Now, results are much better, with multiyear survivors, due to more effective chemotherapy and treatment plans.”

In it for the long haul

Hope is back to work doing what he loves, but life has changed. He takes enzymes to help digest food and finds it difficult to gain weight. He’s also diabetic due to removal of part of his pancreas. “It’s a whole different way of living, but I thank God every day,” he says.

Every six months, he receives scans at Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute. “After every visit Matt is tearful; he stands up and hugs me and his wife, Lisa, and tells me, ‘I just love to hear your voice when you tell me everything’s OK,’” Khalil says. “I hope that never changes.”

Hope feels forever grateful to Brodsky and Khalil. “Those two guys teamed up and worked together – they’re like a dream team,” he says. “They treated me so special, and we just became friends. I couldn’t ask for any better care.”

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