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GI cancer team saves a young father's life

Following a difficult cancer journey, Leo Marimbe rejoiced when his energy returned and he was able to play squash again.

Every Thursday afternoon, patients with newly diagnosed gastrointestinal (GI) tumors gather in the waiting area of Loyola’s Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center while a dozen GI cancer exper ts discuss their medical conditions, one patient at a time. Surgeons, pathologists, medical and radiation oncologists, nurses, GI   specialists, geneticists and nutritionists review and discuss examination reports and imaging scans. Together this GI multidisciplinary team arrives at a consensus on the best approach for each patient.

Immediately following the meeting, a physician sits down with the patient to discuss the team’s findings and recommendations. Once all questions are addressed, the patient leaves the Cancer Center with an individualized treatment plan developed by experts who have embraced this team approach for the past 10 years.

Leo Marimbe was 42 and the father of a three-month old child when a surgeon told him his institution could not operate on the tumor on his pancreas; it was too large and complex. On a Thursday afternoon in the fall of 2007, Leo Marimbe sat in Loyola’s waiting area, hoping that the multidisciplinary GI team could rid him of cancer.

“Our group agreed that if we could shrink the tumor with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, I should be able to remove it completely and safely,” said Margo Shoup, MD, associate professor, surgery, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine (Stritch). “This approach doesn’t always work but we knew it was his best chance for survival.”

“After I managed Leo’s chemotherapy and a colleague provided his radiation therapy, the GI conference again reviewed his CT scans,” said Kenneth Micetich, MD, professor, medicine, hematology/oncology, Stritch. “We saw that the tumor had indeed shrunk in the right places. It was ready for surgery.”

“Leo was very fortunate. He would not have been alive more than a year or two if we could not remove the tumor,” Dr. Shoup said. She added that Leo’s surgery was rather complex, but she and her team have done many complicated surgeries to remove life-threatening tumors.

Today, Leo lives in Westmont with his wife, Christine, and their two young children. He has been cancer free for five years. In addition to his career as a corporate trainer, Leo volunteers his time supporting developmentally challenged people, and he collects and sends textbooks to his native country of Zimbabwe. “I have sent more than 10,000 books that I’ve gathered from corporate donations or bought at used book and garage sales.”

The GI cancer survivor has also returned to an athletic lifestyle, exercising several days each week. Last year he won a squash tournament. “My energy level is great again and my stomach problems are gone,” Leo said. “I feel like I can do anything that I want to do thanks to the people at Loyola. They always supported me and helped me realize I was on the path to healing. I’m very grateful for what they did for me and for the compassion they showed to me and Christine.”

“Leo is amazing. He had a great attitude all along,” Dr. Shoup said. “We’ll never have scientific data to prove it, but we all believe that a good attitude makes a difference. He’s also a reminder that if you’re told your cancer cannot be treated, you should seek a second opinion. Experts who are up-to-date on current treatments and who work in a team environment, will be able offer you the best advice.”

“Many of my patients want to know if I have discussed their situation with other Loyola doctors,” added Dr. Micetich. “It’s reasonable for them to expect that I have reviewed their cases with a variety of specialists involved with cancer to bring the most expertise to bear on their behalf. And that’s what we do, every week.”

Call (708) CAN HELP (708-226-4357) cancer information line.

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