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The Power of Second Opinion

Based on a Michigan Medicine Story
Diagnosed: 2019
Status: Recovery continues to progress

The Pancreatic Cancer Journey of Michael Skaggs

Michael’s unexplained abdominal symptoms sidelined his otherwise healthy and active lifestyle. After countless failed attempts to find the cause of his pain and other symptoms, a friend led him to getting a second opinion. That finally opened the door to answers and his recovery.

In the beginning, his frustrations did not add up.

In the fall of 2018, Michael was becoming more and more frustrated with physical symptoms he and his family doctor could not explain.

Then 48 years-old, he and his wife Missy were perfect models of healthy and active living. Both were nurses at a hospital near their home in Fenton, Michigan. They ate healthy, did not smoke and were avid
competitive marathon runners, including running the Detroit in October of 2018.

Despite his healthy lifestyle and being high energy, he found himself plagued by continuing and persistent abdominal cramping and pain. He dealt with being constantly tired. He said, “we could not figure out why I felt so bad and had continued exhaustion.

By the end of 2018, Mike’s symptoms had not changed. He went to his family physician in January of 2019 for a thorough evaluation. Over the following months, he underwent a battery of blood tests and imaging scans. He also made several trips to the emergency room and at one point was hospitalized.

Despite so many attempts find out what was wrong” recalled Skaggs. “I was getting much worse and and lost a great deal of weight to the point of not being able to run anymore. That was a disappointing setback for me and my wife.

At this low point, Mike was becoming desperate. Through a connection with a co-worker, she advised him that a neighbor of hers was a patient of a Michigan Medicine surgeon who she thought may be able to help him. In the spring of 2019, he was seated across from Dr. Christopher Sonnenday, MD, NHS, who was the Surgical Director of Liver Transplantation and Executive Vice Chair of Surgery and specialized in pancreatic and hepatobilliary surgery and surgical oncology.

That meeting led to his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

Given Michael’s stellar health before being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Dr. Sonnenday and Michael’s oncologist Mark Zalupski, MD, recommended an aggressive treatment path, beginning with chemotherapy and radiation to shrink the tumor prior to surgery to fully remove remnants of the cancer.

As they had hoped, Skaggs tolerated the six months of chemotherapy and radiation very well. He regained weight and strength – and amazingly, went back to running, finishing a half marathon the day after completing his chemotherapy.

“While I was focused on getting healthy to be around for my wife and kids, I just needed to put back on those shoes and get back to racing,” says Skaggs.

Though surgery was a success, it took longer for Skaggs to rebound compared to the chemotherapy. Indeed, he world require about a year to heal from surgery.

But heal he did, and in August of 2020, Skaggs finished a 10-mile race in Flint, Michigan. He even went on to finish a half marathon in Lansing the following month.

While he still struggled with a few nutritional and gastrointestinal issues, Skaggs’ recovery continues to progress. “I know how fortunate I am to have beat the odds,” he says. “I was here to walk my youngest daughter down the aisle in September, and get to hold our first granddaughter all the time.”

Michael now encourages patients like him to have hope, determination and to listen to their bodies. “Don’t let anyone minimize your symptoms or give up on finding answers,” he says. “Keep pushing, and don’t hesitate to seek out a second or even third opinion.

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