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Her Mantra is To “Live, Laugh, Love”. To Embrace Every Moment

Contributing Writer
Julia Brabant
April 2, 2021

Date of Diagnosis: August 19, 2020
Status: Remaining Positive. Embracing Ever Moment.

Dianne Springer equates the last year or so of her life to a rollercoaster ride. While there were plenty of peaks and valleys, she’s hoping to have a smooth ride from here on out.

Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August of 2020, Dianne first felt something was wrong when, out of the blue, she began having severe abdominal pain at work. Listening to her body, she visited her primary care doctor and, over the next few days, underwent an ultrasound. The ultrasound revealed a pancreatic mass, and a subsequent CT scan had doctors telling her she had an ill-defined pancreatic neck lesion with distal PD dilation.

An endoscopic ultrasound, which is essentially a biopsy, followed. Shortly after, she had a formal diagnosis: a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor.

“It all happened so fast,” Dianne said, noting that a matter of days had passed between the onset of her symptoms and her doctors uncovering the cause of them. “You can’t help but freak out – one day, everything is fine, and the next day, they’re telling you you have pancreatic cancer.”

Though reeling from her diagnosis, Dianne found that her situation had several silver linings. First, she was a resident of Cedarburg, Wisconsin, which is close to the Froedtert Clinical Cancer Center and Medical College of Wisconsin, a world-renowned health care provider with one of the nation’s leading pancreatic cancer programs. With a referral from her primary care doctor, Dianne was able to meet with Dr. Douglas B. Evans, M.D., F.A.C.S., who has devoted much of his career to researching pancreatic cancer and developing clinical trials for patients.

In another silver lining, Dr. Evans and his team determined Dianne was a good candidate for the Whipple procedure, a.k.a. a pancreaticoduodenectomy. Her doctors said she wouldn’t have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation before the surgery, either, though many patients do.

“I don’t want to say it was fun,” she said of the procedure, which involves removing the head of the pancreas as well as the bile duct and gall bladder. “But I’m grateful. I know how lucky I am to not have had to go through chemo or radiation.”

She’d seen firsthand the effects of cancer, with her father and stepfather both dying of lung cancer. Her maternal aunt is a breast cancer survivor, having undergone a double mastectomy. Dianne’s own Whipple surgery went well, and she recovered in the hospital for about a week after.

The day after her Whipple procedure, nurses encouraged Dianne to move from the bed to a chair. The following day, she started walking the halls of the hospital – an impressive feat after such an invasive surgery.

“The nurses said they never saw someone walk so much right after surgery,” Dianne said. “I told them, the next time they have a patient who has a Whipple, they need to tell them that Dianne Springer was up and walking in two days!”

Her recovery in the hospital also involved physical therapy to make sure she could perform basic functions. She noted that hospital staff had her practice in a pretend kitchen so they could monitor how well she’d be able to fend for herself moving forward.

“I’m telling you, that nursing staff is phenomenal,” Dianne said, of Dr. Evans’ team. “On a scale of 1 – 10, I give them a 10++. They were very professional and understanding – all of them are my heroes.” She also had high praise for Dr. Evans.

“The man is wonderful,” she said, recalling how, during her last checkup, she wore a T-shirt with “Whipple Warrior” emblazoned across the front. “Dr. Evans got a kick out of it – he asked if we could take a picture together while I was wearing it.”

Dianne also noted that her husband, Tom, has been her rock, sounding board and source of support since day one. She recalled how, back in 2017, while watching a show about skydiving, the pair said, “We should do that!” Unbeknownst to Dianne, Tom had purchased a tandem skydiving package as a Christmas gift that year. Before he could give it to her, though, they found themselves watching skydiving again on TV, and she’d since changed her tune, remarking, “I could NEVER do that!”

Biting his tongue, Tom proceeded to give her the Christmas gift anyway, and a few months later, they felt the rush that can only come from free-falling at 120 mph from more than 14,500 feet above sea level. They liked skydiving so much, in fact, that they made plans to go back for a second jump in 2019. Weather sidelined those plans, though, and then 2020 came, and the pandemic and Dianne’s diagnosis forced them to push their next jump back yet again.

During an appointment with Dr. Evans ahead of Dianne’s surgery, the doctor had asked Dianne and Tom if they had any additional questions about the procedure or recovery process.

“Can she go skydiving after?” Tom had asked, jokingly, before Dr. Evans affirmed that she could, in fact, do so in due time. Next up for Dianne, though, is her eight-month-post-op appointment with Dr. Evans slated for May, 2021. From there, the hope is to transition to follow-up appointments once a year.

A longtime supporter and past participant in Relay for Life, a community-based fundraising event for the American Cancer Society, Dianne encourages everyone to get behind causes that generate funding for cancer research. She also encourages new patients facing similar diagnoses to find their own sources of strength and support. For her, she takes the mantra, “Live, Laugh, Love” to heart, to embrace every moment and make the most of every day. She also has some words of wisdom for patients facing similar diagnoses.

“Stay positive,” she said. “I know firsthand that it’s easier said than done, but it’s something I’ve always tried to do.”

It’s also something she’ll do as she makes plans for that next plane jump – and something she’ll continue to do in the days, weeks and months to come, regardless of what twists and turns life’s rollercoaster has in store.

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