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Tomas Urena Survives Breast and Pancreatic Cancers

East Stroudsburg man has surgery for both on same day; credits his care team with his ‘miracle’

Ask Tomas Urena about his experience dealing with breast cancer and pancreatic cancer at the same time, and he’ll tell you what happened to him was “a miracle.”

A vigorous 80-year-old from East Stroudsburg, Urena went to the dermatologist for a skin irritation on his chest that turned out to be breast cancer. A subsequent scan determined that he also had cancer in his pancreas, which can be very aggressive and fatal if not treated quickly.

“It’s unusual to do both surgeries at once, but he had both cancers and I did not want to delay his care for either one.” - Jacqueline Oxenberg, DO

Surgical care without delay

Facing delays at another health network, he turned to Lehigh Valley Hospital–Pocono. He underwent surgery for both his breast and pancreatic cancer on the same day and now he is receiving chemotherapy.

“It’s unusual to do both surgeries at once, but he had both cancers and I did not want to delay his care for either one,” says Jacqueline Oxenberg, DO, a surgical oncologist with LVPG Surgical Oncology. She did the breast surgery, then went on to remove the cancer from his pancreas robotically.

“The breast surgery was performed first, as this surgery is well-tolerated and would be out of the way for his more complicated pancreatic surgery,” she says. Both operations together took about five hours.

Robotic surgery has many advantages for patients, including less pain, less blood loss and quicker recovery, Dr. Oxenberg says. “Mr. Urena did very well after both of the surgeries and had no complications. I saw him recently and he looks great.”

Rarity of his two diagnoses

Breast cancer in men is rare in itself – less than 1 percent of all breast cancers detected – and Urena had an even rarer form of breast cancer called Paget’s disease. It appears as a skin rash and is diagnosed with a biopsy, Dr. Oxenberg says.

The fact that he had no clue about his pancreatic cancer, and that it was detected “by accident” while he was being evaluated for breast cancer, “was a miracle,” Urena says.

“Pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to treat,” says hematologist oncologist Dan Popescu, MD, with LVPG Hematology Oncology, who is overseeing Urena’s chemotherapy. “He is tolerating the chemotherapy well despite his age. His latest CT scan does not show any cancer. This is great news.”

Encouraging outlook and thanks

Treating a patient for cancer is a complex balance, according to Dr. Popescu: part aggressive chemotherapy and part support and encouragement. “Hope, positive attitude and emotional connection are very important,” Dr. Popescu says. “His faith, prayer and family love also give him strength.”

Urena, a father of four with eight grandchildren, expects to make a full recovery, to travel, and to continue to explore what’s next in his life.

Looking back on his experience at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Pocono, Urena praises the nurses and other staff for the care he received. “I could tell that they really cared about me, and wanted to see me happy and comfortable,” he says. “They were very alert to any change in my condition.”

Dr. Popescu and his chemotherapy team are providing excellent care, Urena says. Dr. Oxenberg, he says, “gave me confidence. She really made it easy for me as a patient. She is my angel who fell from the sky.”   

Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute

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