Garry Banak: Pancreatic Cancer Survivor

Pancreatic Cancer Survivor: Garry's Story

Garry Banak knows firsthand how elusive pancreatic cancer can be. “Pancreatic cancer is the hardest cancer to detect, because it’s hidden behind everything,” he says.

In late 2016, he began suffering abdominal pain, initially thought to be pancreatitis. When he didn’t improve, he went through more testing, which resulted in a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer nearly a year later. “I must have had between 10 and 20 tests. CT scans didn’t even show it. In October 2017, they finally found it,” Garry recalls.

He underwent an MRCP, a specialized, noninvasive MRI exam, which showed a pancreatic mass. It also showed that the tumor encased major blood vessels, making it inoperable. He began medical treatment and has gone through an estimated 48 rounds of chemotherapy over the past two years.

Once he was diagnosed, Garry says, “the plan was to go to Roswell and fight it. I am not a quitter; I keep moving, and I won’t give up. Fight, fight, fight: that’s the name of the game.”

Garry is under the care of Renuka Iyer, MD, Section Chief for Gastrointestinal Oncology and Co-Director of the Liver and Pancreas Tumor Center at Roswell Park. “Dr. Iyer is a great doctor. She keeps me positive, that’s for sure,” says Garry, who also credits his wife of 33 years, Susan Banak, and his sister, Barbara Sommer, with keeping his spirits up.

“My wife has been unbelievable. I get teary just thinking about it,” he says of the woman who accompanies him to all his treatments.

Garry’s sister also went through treatment at Roswell Park 10 years ago for stage 4 colon cancer. “She is cancer-free; Roswell saved her life!” Garry says of Barbara, with whom he recently baked 80 cookies to share with his fellow chemotherapy patients at his next treatment.

The Banaks keep busy caring for their two dogs — Quincy, a nine-year-old Havanese/Yorkshire terrier mix, and Abbey Rose, a Maltese/poodle mix puppy.

The couple also is active in the Western New York chapter of PanCAN, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, which raised more than $187,000 during its inaugural PurpleStride 5K run in September; Roswell Park was a sponsor for the event.

“We can’t thank Roswell and PanCAN enough, and especially all the wonderful nurses at the Roswell Amherst satellite, where Garry receives chemo every other week,” says Susan Banak.  

Garry encourages anyone with persistent abdominal pain to “go to your doctor and get it checked. Pancreatic cancer is so hard to detect, so the sooner your doctors find it, the better.”

He is grateful that he was referred for treatment at Roswell Park, one of only 42 centers nationwide to be recognized by the National Pancreas Foundation as a premier facility for multidisciplinary treatment of pancreas cancer. Roswell Park’s Liver and Pancreas Tumor Center brings together experts and resources from several medical specialties to treat patients with these diagnoses, offering:

  • Clinical trials of the very latest drugs, immunotherapies and targeted agents — often available at Roswell Park years before they’re offered at other centers.
  • Advanced endoscopic procedures for diagnosis and treatment in Roswell Park’s state-of-the-art Endoscopy Center, with onsite pathology to provide immediate, mid-procedure review.

Roswell Park’s High-Risk Pancreatic Cancer Screening Program treats people at the highest risk for developing this cancer due to family history, genetic syndromes and other disorders. For more information, call 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355).

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