Kerry Alvarado’s Story: 'Columbia Gave Me Options and Hope'

When Kerry Alvarado was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in late 2016, she had already overcome breast cancer and colon cancer. Her third cancer diagnosis in a span of two years, all she could think at the time was, “Who survives pancreatic cancer?”

Patient Kerry Alvarado stands next to her oncologist, Dr. Gulam Manji
Patient Kerry Alvarado with her oncologist, Dr. Gulam Manji

With few early-warning signs, pancreatic cancer is one of the toughest cancers to diagnose. By the time a patient receives a diagnosis, the cancer has  often spread or is rapidly growing, making treatment challenging.

Unfortunately, this was the case for Kerry. A little over a year following surgery and chemotherapy for colon cancer, Kerry had been experiencing stomach pains. After a scan revealed a mass in her pancreas, her then gastroenterologist immediately referred her to Dr. John Chabot, a world-leading pancreas cancer expert and surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center who recommended surgery. During surgery however, Dr. Chabot determined that the removal of the entire pancreas was necessary; the tumor proved to be much larger in size.

Kerry underwent chemotherapy following her operation and had begun a road to recovery. But 11 months later, she suffered a major setback. Scans detected a new tumor in her abdomen.

“I was terrified but I’ve kept a positive attitude. I’ve always been a person who doesn’t fold,” says Kerry.

Kerry credits her dedicated care team at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia and her family and close friends for consistently supporting her through her ongoing battle with cancer. “I have been well taken care of here,” she adds. “I feel like I’m the only patient … They know me. They have an interest in me.”

Now with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, Kerry’s treatment options were limited. In early 2018, Dr. Chabot introduced Kerry to Dr. Gulam Manji, an oncologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia, a member of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, and director of Columbia’s Pancreas Medical Oncology and Translational Research program. Dr. Manji enrolled Kerry in a clinical trial with a combination immunotherapy regimen.

Immunotherapy has resulted in successful treatment of skin and lung cancer, amongst other tumor subtypes, but has not been effective for a majority of patients with pancreatic cancer. Combination treatments, which add to immunotherapy, are currently being tested in multiple clinical trials. Kerry is being treated in one such combination immunotherapy trial on which she started treatment on April of 2018. Kerry’s tumor has shrunk by 55 percent and has remained stable during this time.

For Kerry, the clinical trial has offered her a window to a more hopeful outcome.  She says, “When I leave my treatments, I feel perfectly fine. I don’t feel sick now.” Kerry, who works fulltime for a supermarket distributor, has been well enough to continue working throughout her treatment, and last year, enjoyed family vacations to New Orleans and Las Vegas.

Having been a patient at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia for six years, Kerry cannot imagine going anywhere else for her cancer care. She is grateful for her entire care team, especially how they have worked together through the ups and downs of her treatment.

“If Dr. Chabot hadn’t introduced me to Dr. Manji, I would’ve never even thought about a clinical trial,” says Kerry. “Columbia took care of me –they gave me options and hope.”

-Melanie A. Farmer