|Pancreatic Cancer: A Life Lesson|
Phil Shupe, director of pre-owned car sales for Tom Masano Auto Group in Reading, Pennsylvania, prides himself on being especially up front, honest and forthcoming, although he admits that within the last 5 years, he has truly enjoyed getting to know each customer personally. That's because 5 years ago, a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer taught Phil the important lesson of how fragile life is.
In June 2003, Phil had his annual physical exam. The results were perfect. Phil continued perfecting his golf game, selling cars and spending time with Carol Hill, his long time girlfriend. Things were good in the Shupe house.
Then, just one month later, Phil began experiencing constipation for the first time in his life and was jaundiced. Carol suspected something was seriously wrong. As a result of the partnership between The Reading Hospital and Medical Center and Fox Chase Cancer Center, Phil met with Oleh Haluszka, MD, director of gastrointestinal endoscopy at Fox Chase. Further testing revealed that Phil had a tumor on his pancreas that traveled to the common bile duct.
"Dr. Haluszka explained that pancreatic cancer could be treated successfully through a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation," recalled Phil, who was relieved. His next step was to meet James C. Watson, MD, a surgical oncologist with a special expertise in cancers of the gastrointestinal tract.
"Dr. Watson was terrific. He explained everything to me and by the end of the appointment, I decided to have surgery," said Phil. Dr. Watson's schedule was full, other than an opening 2 days later. Phil jumped at the opportunity to have his surgery that week. Less than 48 hours later, Phil checked into the hospital, prepared for surgery.
"The surgery was a success," Dr. Watson explained. "We were able to remove the mass completely."
After recovering from surgery, Phil returned to The Reading Hospital Regional Cancer Center to start a course of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The partnership between the 2 institutions enabled Phil to continue his personalized treatment regimen in a comfortable setting close to his home and family.
"The treatment (at The Reading Hospital Regional Cancer Center) was amazing. With a port, I was getting my chemo 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so I didn't have to miss a day of work," explained Phil. A strong believer in the power of the mind, Phil felt it was important to keep working through his treatment. "Once I was ready to begin radiation, I scheduled my appointments for the late afternoon so I could get in a full day in the office."
The only activity Phil had to give up temporarily was golf. He dreamed about his golf game at night and when he was finally up to it, Phil installed a net in his basement and started hitting balls. Exactly one year and one day after the operation, Phil won his club championship (in his "flight"). "This was the crowning moment of the most incredible year," Phil remembered.
Phil treasures every day. He takes the extra time necessary to get to know people and ask how they are. "Most people hear me ask 'how are you' and keep walking," he said. Phil now surprises them by stopping to wait for their answer. He is making a difference in the lives of his customers and friends and loves the feeling he gets from helping others.
This experience has made Phil a more compassionate car salesman, too. "I understand that my customers are investing a lot of money in a car," explained Phil, who strives to help them find the most suitable car for their needs, in the best condition, for the lowest price. "When I can put all of that together for someone, I am satisfied."
Phil believes he is living proof that you can beat pancreatic cancer. Everyone's case is different, but with a good attitude, Phil believes that patients can increase their chances. "The last 5 years have been a gift," Phil said. "I truly believe that if I didn't act quickly, I'd be dead. Dr. Watson saved my life." Phil believes that if he can help one other person, his experience will be worth it. To date, he has referred 2 patients from the Reading area to Dr. Watson for cancer surgery.
In addition to work, golf and Carol, Phil enjoys spending time with his children and grandchildren." It's hard to believe I could have missed out on these opportunities," Phil shared. "An experience like pancreatic cancer really makes you stop and treasure every day you're alive."