Two years since Marvin Zindler died

July 30, 2009 7:52:11 AM PDT
Two years ago Wednesday, pancreatic cancer took the life of our Action 13's Marvin Zindler. His battle put a spotlight on one of the toughest cancers to fight. Actor and Houston native Patrick Swayze is also fighting that disease. It seems almost no one survives pancreatic cancer, but a woman diagnosed with it eight years ago did. She told us what she thinks helped her survive.

Mary Sharkey heard the same words Marvin Zindler heard.

"You hear pancreatic cancer which leaves you dumbstruck, then when you hear you're inoperable. You know you really do have a battle," said Mary.

But eight years later, Mary is cancer free, making plans and building a new house with her husband, Pat.

"We're planning our future now, that's right," said Pat.

We have followed Mary's battle since that day in 2001 when she first got the news.

"Can I have a sip of water? I feel like I'm walking around in a dream, a very awful bad dream," said Mary.

But radiation and chemotherapy shrunk the tumor enough to allow her to have a lifesaving 10 hour surgery called the Whipple procedure. They removed parts of three organs.

"As one of my girlfriends said, 'Mary, you didn't have surgery, you were gutted,'" said Mary.

Five years later, Mary heard news equally as stunning.

"We think you're not going to have to worry about this anymore," said Dr. Wolf.

Mary replied, "That's the first time you've ever said anything like that to me. Do you know what that means?"

It means she's considered cured. Mary's fight against cancer inspired her daughter to become a doctor. Amy Sharkey completed medical school at the University of Texas-Houston.

"She's the driving force of me going into medicine and the fact she's here today is so incredible it's unbelievable," said Amy.

Mary is very proud of her daughter.

Why does Mary believe she survived when so many others don't? She noticed two very early symptoms.

"I was feeling discomfort right in my sternum area and right back here," said Mary.

Her doctor listened and ordered a lifesaving scan. Her advice is to listen to your body and find a doctor who listens to you.

"If something doesn't seem right, you go after it. Lots of times because of health care, the way it is, if the doctor doesn't want to run the test, you go and you insist," said Mary.

If you'd like to help in the fight against pancreatic cancer, you can give to the Marvin Zindler Fund for Pancreatic Cancer Research:

"In Memory of Marvin"
M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Box 4486
Houston 77210-4486

Or you can donate online.

The fund has raised almost $71,000 for researchers at MD Anderson.

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