A 10-year-old survivor is on a new adventure Corewell Health

Karin Wolschleger lives for adventure.

As she flies to Europe, the Caribbean, Iceland and New Zealand, she makes life look good at 64.

Not to say that there is not much time at home either, most of it was spent with the grandchildren. But he always sees a new journey on the horizon as soon as the last one appears in his rearview mirror.

It’s more than wanderlust that drives Karin.

He has a deep sense of gratitude for all that the world has to offer, especially since he was given a second chance at life 10 years ago.

At the age of 54, Karin began an exhausting, unplanned journey. he faced pancreatic cancer.

Beating it required a long course of treatment at Corewell Health’s Spectrum Health Cancer Center, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery.

And for Karin, it also required enormous determination, resilience, a wide support network and a medical team she could trust.

And hope. She clung to the hope that she would beat cancer and find more days to treasure with her loved ones.

“Now that I look back, I realize that I was given a new lease of life,” Karin said. “I’m not going to waste a minute of it.”

Seeing Karin embrace life brings joy to her Corewell Health surgical oncologist, Matthew Chung, MD.

“It’s great,” he said. “That’s why we do what we do to get this result.”

As a 10-year survivor, Karin shares a message of hope for others facing pancreatic cancer.

“It’s not a death sentence,” he said. “You can get through it.”

A tumor was detected

A decade ago, in her mid-50s, Karin felt on the cusp of new freedoms and milestones.

The youngest of her four children, her twin sons, were in college.

She was looking forward to having more time to travel and relax with her husband. She hoped for grandchildren one day.

And then a CT scan revealed a tumor the size of a golf ball on his pancreas.

“It was a dark moment,” he said. “It was hard, really hard.”

She didn’t know much about pancreatic cancer, but what she did know wasn’t good.

“It doesn’t have the best reputation,” he said.

Her husband, Dr. Kevin Wohlschleger, a cardiologist at Corewell Health, warned her to avoid Internet searches on the topic.

Articles are often based on past years of studies and patients. They do not necessarily reflect current medical knowledge or the treatments he will receive.

Karin had a friend whose uncle lived 20 years after his diagnosis. It gave him reason to hope that he too might be saved.

However, he faced a battle.

Even today, the 10-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is “in the 10% range,” Dr. Chung said.

A new treatment

One factor in Karin’s survival was a treatment approach that was considered state-of-the-art a decade ago. Before surgery, he underwent chemotherapy and radiation to shrink the tumor.

“Some of the bigger (cancer treatment programs) were just starting to do this,” Dr. Chung said. “It’s become more the norm now.”

Dr. Chung performed the operation in 2013. on February 26. Along with the tumor, he removed Karin’s pancreas, spleen, gallbladder, part of the bile duct, part of the stomach and the first part of the small intestine.

Without a pancreas, she immediately developed type 1 diabetes and learned to adapt to insulin injections and blood sugar checks. But that’s not what stands out most about Karin.

“That’s when I say I was cancer-free,” she said. “That’s what I call my anniversary date.”

Through treatments and recovery from surgery, Karin relied on her husband, children and friends.

“It’s important that you have a support system,” she said. “You need someone here, someone you can lean on.”


As she recovered, Karin continued to see her doctors. Initially, he underwent CT scans every three months. Gradually the scans became more and more separated from each other.

About five years ago, a scan discovered her lung cancer, which had spread from pancreatic cancer.

He underwent CyberKnife treatment, which uses radiation to target and destroy the cancer.

“I still get a CT scan every two to three years,” Karin said. “Sometimes I have to put it in the back of my mind and say I’m going to live my life and not worry about it.”

Creating family memories

The past 10 years have been filled with moments that make Karin grateful for her survival.

She helped take care of her parents who live nearby.

He has watched his twin sons graduate from college and start careers.

Two of his children are married.

And he had four grandchildren.

“They are so precious, and they mean so much,” she said. “When I was diagnosed, I never thought I would be able to see my grandchildren.”

The family was celebrating his 10th birthdayth anniversary as a survivor by going to St. Maarten this winter.

“We’re making all those family memories,” she said.

Over the years, friends have asked her to speak to others facing pancreatic cancer. And he is happy to share his experience.

“With pancreatic cancer, there is hope,” he said. “You can get past it. I think it’s important for people to understand that.
“Just trust the doctors. And if you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask.”

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