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Valerie Breen never thought she would have a health scare while vacationing in Paris.

Photo by: Valerie Breen

Every year, I think of November as a month of Thanksgiving. For me, post Halloween and before Christmas, it’s a time to celebrate with a thankful heart.

This November is even more of a celebration for me. Because of the trust I placed in Moffitt’s research, knowledge, care and concern provided by their wonderful team of experts, I was able to avoid getting pancreatic cancer. For that, I am forever grateful.

My six-month follow-up is right around the corner, and I am looking forward to celebrating the outcomes. I was able to survive and thrive after a Whipple procedure because of the incredible state-of-the-art technology, skill and care provided by Dr. Mokenge Malafa and his team. Even when I had to return a month later for emergency surgery due to a bowel obstruction, his team was ready and waiting to provide the interventions I needed to survive, and once again thrive, through unexpected hurdles.

When I first met Dr. Malafa and his team in December 2022, he carefully explained the research and protocols for prevention through early intervention for intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms, or IPMNs of the pancreas. A cyst at the head of the pancreas and a dilated pancreatic duct were first found on a CT scan at the American Hospital of Paris in France while I was on vacation. Although the cause of my symptoms was not related to the pancreas, but a bacterial infection, the Paris doctor wanted to ensure that I would follow up on the findings they noted with my pancreas. I could have ignored what they said, but that would have been a mistake. I had the chance to identify whether I had pancreatic cancer or not, and a chance to be ahead of it or prevent it from happening. 

I was my own advocate for over five months, wending my way through my doctors at home and the limitations with my insurance coverage. I researched everything I could learn about pancreatic cysts, dilated pancreatic ducts and IPMNs. I decided what I wanted: to only be seen by the team at Moffitt Cancer Center in my home state. Moffitt’s team of financial advisors, schedulers and medical staff were outstanding. Being a medical advocate for others throughout my career, I knew the questions to ask and the barriers individuals and families can face. The staff took the time to answer every one of my questions. They helped me every step of the way; from learning what insurance coverage I needed, securing the best medical care possible and addressing everything I needed through not one but two surgeries. 

When a patient is scared and doesn’t know where to turn, every member of Moffitt’s staff is key to that person and their family and caregivers. My family and I hung on every word, every encouragement. Whether it was from the knowledge of the person taking my blood, providing my supplies, monitoring my care and progress day to day, helping me participate in exercise or learning about nutrition. I made it through because of them and my deep and abiding spiritual beliefs. The Moffitt team helped me trust the system, and for the very first time, helped me feel that I would be OK. That’s what a team means to someone like me. A group you can count on, no matter what.

With a thankful heart, I celebrate you and all you do for patients like me!



Written by Valerie E. Breen, patient of Dr. Mokenge Malafa and team