AT AGE 87, BILL WHITNEY IS A 13-Year Pancreatic Cancer Survivor
Written By: Julia Brabant
Date of Diagnosis: November 2010
Current Status: Now Cancer-Free
At Age 87, Bill Whitney is Healthy and Cancer-Free
Pancreatic cancer is most common among older populations, with the American Cancer Society reporting that the average pancreatic cancer patient receives a diagnosis around age 70. West Bend, Wisconsin’s Bill Whitney was four years past that mark when he received his own diagnosis, and now, 13 years later, he’s healthy and cancer-free.
Bill’s health issues began back in 2009, when ongoing back pain and aches in his chest led him to visit his general practitioner. His doctor thought his pain was the result of arthritis, but when it continued for a full year, he figured it was time to seek a second opinion. He underwent testing at his local hospital, with tests revealing a tumor on his pancreas. A biopsy followed, leading to a formal diagnosis of Stage 1 pancreatic cancer in November 2010.
Doctors started Bill on chemotherapy right away. While Bill had treatment, his wife, Mary, spoke with someone she knew at the nearby Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin. The friend urged Mary to have Bill see Dr. Douglas B. Evans, MD, FACS, the Chair of the Department of Surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Bill’s current oncologist also knew Dr. Evans, having worked together in the past, so the two conferred with one another on Bill’s case while he continued chemo locally. Bill soon had a visit with Dr. Evans, who determined he was not a candidate for a Whipple surgery due to the placement of his tumor. Bill soon began receiving all of his treatments at Froedtert, and there, he began working with oncologist Dr. Ben George, MD, and radiation oncologist Dr. Beth Erickson, MD, FACR, FASTRO, FABR. Dr. Erickson thought he was a prime candidate for a new treatment option known as MR-guided, dose-escalated radiation.
Upon completing radiation, doctors noticed some of Bill’s lymph nodes had become enlarged and recommended additional chemotherapy as a result. After more chemo, doctors removed Bill’s lymph nodes, which ultimately showed no signs of cancer.
Bill’s health remained strong between 2011 and 2017, at which point doctors identified new nodules on his lung.
While his treatments sidelined him temporarily, Bill has since returned to a mostly normal lifestyle. He golfs regularly, spends time on his boat and even created his own pancreatic cancer research fund, the William & Mary Pancreatic Cancer Research Trust Fund, to further research and expand options for patients facing similar diagnoses. He also supports Dr. Evans’ We Care Fund, which funds cancer and other medical research, and has follow-up tests every six months, after which he donates the blood taken during each visit to medical research.
Bill also had genetic testing done to see if he had any irregularities that might make him or other family members more likely to develop cancer. However, the tests did not turn up any obvious abnormalities.
Bill also acknowledged the contributions of his wife and family in helping him heal, noting that his wife cooked for him multiple times a day during treatment to help keep his strength up.
He also has a few words of wisdom for patients facing their own pancreatic cancer diagnoses.
Bill Whitney has shown no signs of cancer since 2021.