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Diagnosed By Accident, Glenn Kollman Now Lives Cancer Free
Written By Julia Brabant
Diagnosed: October 2014
Current Status: In Remission
Pancreatic cancer is tough to detect early on, and many patients don’t experience symptoms until the disease has already progressed outside the pancreas. Glenn Kollman is among the lucky few who found out about his condition entirely by accident – and his decision to seek treatment for mild shoulder pain may well have saved his life.
A resident of Burlington, Wisconsin, Glenn was just starting to see retirement in his future when pain in his left shoulder kept him from getting a good night’s sleep. He went to see Dr. Melanie Smith at Aurora Health Care in Burlington, and she ordered an X-ray and a CT scan.
Glenn wondered whether the CT scan was necessary given the fact that he wasn’t having any stomach issues and, aside from the shoulder pain, felt fine. He had the scan anyway, and the doctor said it revealed something on the tail end of his pancreas.
An MRI revealed that that “something” was a tumor. That wasn’t what Glenn wanted to hear – he knew what it likely meant, and he had a coworker who’d received a pancreatic cancer diagnosis awhile back who’d succumbed to the disease quickly. Dr. Smith told Glenn he needed to go to Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center for further assessment.
There, he had an endoscopic ultrasound.
“Well, there’s good news and bad news,” The doctor said.
Glenn wanted the bad news first.
“You have pancreatic cancer,” the doctor said. “The good news is, it’s in a good spot.”
Glenn had a neuroendocrine tumor, which is a slower-growing tumor type. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) only about 7% of pancreatic cancer patients develop this type of tumor, with the late Apple Co-Founder Steve Jobs among them. Because of where the tumor was on the pancreas, and because Glenn’s condition was still Stage 1, his doctor said his prospects looked promising.
“Well, you don’t have to look for a new husband,” Dr. Evans told Glenn’s wife of 34 years, Paulette, after reviewing Glenn’s MRI results.
He then had Glenn see Froedtert/MCW’s Dr. Kathleen K. Christians, M.D., who specializes in robotic surgery, a less-invasive alternative to open surgery. Within weeks, Dr. Christians performed the surgery successfully, and without Glenn having to undergo chemotherapy or radiation ahead of it. She removed his spleen and half his pancreas, and while the recovery wasn’t necessarily easy, he was up and moving soon after and back to work within a few months.
Glenn has immense gratitude for Dr. Christians and the entire team at Froedtert, where he’d had a series of back and other surgeries already in the past. He continued to see the team periodically for follow-ups in the years following his diagnosis and robotic surgery, and all new scans, to date, have come out clean.
Glenn does live with diabetes now but notes that he was pre-diabetic before his diagnosis. He said that diabetes also runs in his family, but that he was the first in his family to receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
He tries to follow a better diet as he continues to manage his diabetes. “I know I should eat better,” he said. “Clearly, the guy upstairs wants me around for some reason.”
He also encourages anyone experiencing unusual symptoms to trust their gut and seek treatment. He hopes medical advances will soon make it easier to detect pancreatic cancer early on in patients.
“When people complain about pain, doctors need to pay attention,” he said. “Too many people get pills or medication to make the pain ‘go away’ instead of getting to the root of the problem.”
Glenn also acknowledges the role luck played in his journey.
“Twenty years ago, I might have been dead,” he said. “Now, I get to enjoy my retirement.”
Glenn Kollman is set to retire in April, 2022.