Carl Verdi devoted his life to education, first as a high school science teacher, and then as a principal. As he was settling into his well-deserved retirement and looking forward to his 70th birthday, he received a diagnosis that changed everything: a complex pancreatic cancer and bile duct cancer. With Carl’s life on the line, his local doctor knew he needed the best possible care and advised him to go to Memorial Sloan Kettering.
At MSK, Carl first met with surgeon William Jarnagin. When Dr. Jarnagin saw Carl’s tumor was in a location too complex to be safely treated with surgery, he consulted with medical oncologist Ghassan Abou-Alfa. At the time, there was no standard procedure for treating a cancer like Carl’s, so Dr. Abou-Alfa had to think innovatively. He opted to put Carl on an intensive round of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor enough to make it operable.
- Carl Verdi, a retired high school science teacher and principal of 43 years, was diagnosed with a complex pancreatic and biliary cancer in 2009.
- Because Carl’s cancer was too complex to be safely operated on, his MSK doctors recommended he first be treated with intensive chemotherapy to shrink the tumors enough for surgery.
- When the tumors were small enough, Carl’s surgeon was able to remove them using a technique called a Whipple procedure.
- After Carl’s surgery, his wife asked how he wanted to spend his 70th birthday. When he said he wanted to go to a French restaurant, she decided they should — in Paris. He sent his care team postcards from France.
During chemotherapy, Carl found support and, much to his surprise, even friendship in the chemo suite. He became particularly close with nurse Mary Brady — the two passed the hours of his treatments by sharing stories about their families. They developed such a close friendship that when Carl was alone in chemotherapy one St. Patrick’s Day, Mary dropped in with her kids to help brighten his day.
After six months of treatment, Dr. Jarnagin and Dr. Abou-Alfa decided Carl’s tumor had shrunk enough to perform surgery including an advanced technique known as a Whipple procedure. When Carl, a lifelong Yankees fan, was nervous the night before his surgery, Dr. Jarnagin, a diehard Red Sox fan, told him not to worry about the surgery, but instead to worry that his Yankees were playing Boston that weekend. He need not have worried: The surgery was a complete success, and Carl was cancer free.
After Carl’s recovery, his wife, Ann, asked how he wanted to spend his 70th birthday — a milestone it once looked like he might never see. When Carl said he wanted to eat at a French restaurant, Ann did him one better and booked them two tickets to Paris. In France, Carl sent his care team postcards, thanking them personally for making that birthday possible.