A new cancer diagnosis was not something Linthicum resident Dottie Cosner was expecting to deal with in the winter of 2019.

With less than two months until her wedding, there already was a lot on Cosner's plate when she suspected something might be amiss with her health. She can vividly remember welcoming in the new year with a burning pain inside her abdomen. It then took several weeks, multiple trips to different doctors and even an operation to remove her gall bladder before anyone knew exactly what was wrong. Finally, she ended up in the emergency room, followed by a brief hospital stay where tests revealed a scary diagnosis.

“When I got to the Tate Cancer Center at University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center, Dr. Boutros told me I had cancer,” said Cosner. “I burst into tears, and I gave him a big hug. I said I am getting married in seven weeks. He looked at me and said, ‘We will get you there.’”

Surgical oncologist Cherif Boutros, MD, chair of surgical oncology and medical director of the Tate Cancer Center at UM Baltimore Washington in Glen Burnie and professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, was true to his word. He quickly cleared his schedule so Cosner could go to the operating room in time to recover for her wedding.

Complex Surgeries Offered in Our Community

Cosner’s case was quickly discussed at the multidisciplinary tumor board at the Tate Cancer Center. The tumor board is a panel of experts including surgical, medical and radiation oncologists; surgeons and specialists; radiologists; social workers; a genetic counselor; a dietitian; and a research team. They meet to review and discuss each patient’s endoscopy, radiology, laboratory and pathology results, including Cosner’s.

The tumor board’s recommendation was that Cosner would have the Whipple procedure — surgery to treat tumors located at the pancreatic head area arising from the pancreatic duct, the pancreatic portion of the bile duct or the connection of the bile and pancreatic ducts.

This is a complex abdominal operation that is not offered at every community hospital. The Tate Cancer Center is a community-based academic cancer center recognized among very few national cancer centers as an Academic Center of Excellence for pancreatic cancer by the National Pancreas Foundation.

“During a Whipple procedure, we carefully remove tumors with resection of the pancreatic head, distal bile duct and the first part of the small intestine — called the duodenum — with all surrounding lymph nodes. It is tricky, though, because we change the anatomy to be sure the tumor is out and the patient can still properly digest food,” Dr. Boutros said.

“The Whipple surgery name can sound intimidating to patients, but we do it frequently here at UM BWMC. Our cancer team is very experienced, and we collaborate with our multidisciplinary cancer providers to ensure that every patient has a personalized, timely treatment plan.”

Just days after her diagnosis, Cosner was in the operating room at UM BWMC for surgery.

The surgery lasted five hours and was a success. Cosner had to spend only two days at the hospital, then a few weeks recovering at home.

She was able to walk down the aisle in April 2019 and exchange traditional vows — that included “in sickness and in health” — with her new husband. She was able to have fun at her reception, and she could even do a little dancing despite the recent surgery.

Continuing Treatment After Surgery

Unfortunately, Cosner’s honeymoon trip to Florida was off the table.

“I was married on a Saturday, and I started chemo that following Monday,” Cosner said. She underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy which were followed by 37 sessions of radiation.

Despite the exhausting treatments and side effects, Cosner decided early on that she needed a positive attitude.

“I could not lie around and feel sorry for myself,” she said. “I told myself not to give up. My husband, daughter, granddaughter, parents, sisters and friends, and the support of my employer helped me get through the tough days.”

A Great Team

Cosner had complete faith in Dr. Boutros and the entire team at the Tate Cancer Center.

“I love Dr. Boutros,” she said. “He was so good to me, he got me ready for my wedding, and I wasn’t going anywhere else. My medical oncologist, Dr. Mya Thein, radiation oncologist, Dr. Akshar Patel, and radiation therapists were amazing too. I trusted this team, and I wanted to stay at the Tate Cancer Center throughout my journey.”

Now, two years later, Cosner is cancer-free and still has blood work and check-ups at the Tate Cancer Center every seven weeks. She looks forward to re-scheduling her honeymoon once COVID-19 travel restrictions ease.

Recently, Cosner had another important wedding to attend, and this time, she was the mother of the bride. Stronger and healthier each day — thanks in part to the cancer care she received at the Tate Cancer Center at UM Baltimore Washington Medical Center — she could thoroughly enjoy this momentous occasion.

This story was originally published in the Fall 2021 issue of Maryland’s Health Matters.