Finding your motivation to continue on- A patient story

Feb 17, 2016 | Patient Stories

This is the second in a series of profiles highlighting the stories of patients facing rare cancers. This series was initiated by TargetCancer Foundation intern Alexa Parisi, who is also the author of this profile. 

When faced with a rare cancer, it can be hard to find the hope, determination, and drive to continue the fight. Like any other challenge in life, you must find your own unique purpose that motivates you to stay positive and carry on. A positive outlook and reason for continuing on has helped Geri Keegan fight against cholangiocarcinoma for two and a half years, and has helped her remain true to herself despite the many complications that have been a result of her rare cancer.

Geri had been working full-time in Boston at the same company for nearly fourteen years. A caregiver herself, running back and forth between two different nursing homes visiting her brother and mother, Geri wasn’t feeling quite right and knew something was wrong. Finding the time between her full-time job and caring for her ill family members, Geri went to the doctors, but they found nothing. After a couple of weeks of a persistent pain in her right side she felt as if it was her dad trying to tell her to go back to the doctors. The doctor sent her for an ultrasound and then a biopsy – sure enough, a significant tumor was found in her liver. She was diagnosed with Stage 2 cholangiocarcinoma. After an initial consultation with an oncologist at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, the doctor suggested seeing a specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. MGH had extensive experience in dealing with rare, aggressive cancers such as cholangiocarcinoma.


Geri and her mom.

Thanks to a referral, Geri was connected to a very well-known and trusted surgical oncologist at MGH, Dr. Kenneth Tanabe. Dr. Tanabe told Geri she was among the 20% of cholangiocarcinoma patients who were eligible for surgery, but warned her of the complications, side effects, and a lengthy recovery time that would be the result of the risky surgery. Despite the fear Geri had of these complications, she underwent surgery on October 16, 2013. The surgeon removed 55% of her liver and a portion of her intestines as well as lymph nodes. Geri endured 7 hours of surgery while her family waited. Her surgery was followed by 12 days of hospitalization, and 8 weeks of recovery. Geri began chemotherapy on December 11, 2013 under the care of Dr. Jeffrey Clark.

“I feel like I spend more time at MGH than at home.”

After her first scan in February 2014, a new small tumor was found in the part of her liver that was not removed from the initial surgery – she was now considered stage 4. Her oncologist recommended changing the chemotherapy in order to shrink the new tumor, however after 9 months of a different chemotherapy, another tumor was found on the incision line from her surgery. In December 2014, Geri completed several rounds of radiation to try to shrink the tumor on the incision line. In January 2015, she resumed her bi-weekly chemotherapy treatments which she continues today.

“Stage 4 or stage 27, I’m keeping a positive attitude…because I don’t want to go anywhere.”

Amazingly, Geri has endured 35 rounds of Oxaliplatin and 46 rounds of 5FU since her diagnosis. But two and a half years of battling cholangiocarcinoma along with several complications have led to diabetes, infections, and allergies to the dye used for MRI and CT Scans, most pain medications, and one type of chemotherapy that she regularly receives. Geri continues to fight this rare cancer and all of its complications with every ounce of energy she has while she continues to smile, share laughs with family and friends and remain positive.

Despite the many hardships and battles she has overcome in the last two and a half years with cholangiocarcinoma, Dr. Clark informed Geri that she is doing comparatively better than many of his patients. She maintains her positive attitude, firecracker personality, and love of life by being there for her mother, daughters Kim, Sheri and Amy, who she raised by herself, her son-in-law, Keith, as well as her two granddaughters Sammy and Maddy who refer to their grandmother as “Gaga.”


Geri and her granddaughters, Sammy and Maddy. Photo: Isabel Furie Photographs

“I want them to have a grandmother and I want to see them grow some more.”

Geri refers to her family as “Team Keegan.” Her children have accompanied her to all of her medical appointments since her diagnosis offering love, friendship and support.

Geri and her family were introduced to TargetCancer Foundation somewhat serendipitously in 2015, when her daughter Kim happened to see an ad for a fundraiser for TargetCancer Foundation’s Boston Marathon team. Kim attended, and since then Geri and her family have been an almost constant presence at TargetCancer Foundation events. In 2015 alone, Geri danced the night away at another marathon fundraiser, cheered on the marathon runners from their viewing location in Ashland and attended the annual gala in Boston. At that event, she also had the opportunity to meet TargetCancer Foundation grant recipient and cholangiocarcinoma researcher, Nabeel Bardeesy.


Geri and TargetCancer Foundation grant recipient Nabeel Bardeesy.

“TargetCancer Foundation has been instrumental in helping our family realize that we are not alone in this fight and that there are so many other families who have been touched by this rare form of cancer. I am thankful for the knowledge that TCF has shared with our family about their research and hard work in trying to find a cure for cholangiocarcinoma. They have also motivated me to keep on fighting this battle.”

Geri hangs on to many memories and accomplishments throughout her life that continue to bring her joy. One of Geri’s greatest accomplishments was completing her college degree while working full-time. Geri had been going to college part-time nights for many years, and when she realized that she might be able to complete her degree and graduate with her daughter, she doubled and tripled up on courses at Framingham State College (now known as Framingham State University). The mother/daughter team walked alongside each other up to the stage to receive their diplomas on May 23, 1993.

Aside from this personal accomplishment, Geri’s fondest memory was going to Walt Disney World in February 2015 with her family for their very first trip there. It was so much fun, that Geri wanted to take her family back to Disney again this year. After getting the OK from Dr. Clark another trip to Disney was planned for early 2016.

Unfortunately, after celebrating her mother’s 94th birthday, Geri wasn’t feeling well, fell and broke her hip. After a partial hip replacement, Geri is recovering at MGH and is on the mend and working harder than ever to get back on her feet so that she can return to Disney with her family. She hopes to continue this tradition for years to come.

“Chemo is taking its toll, but I’m alive, and I’m happy.”

UPDATE! Geri and her family indeed took that trip to Disney, and you can see photos from the trip below.

In Geri’s own words:

“Even when faced with the bleakest diagnosis, I was able to fulfill a childhood promise that I had made years ago to my children which was taking them to Disney! Lucky me, I got to take my children, son-in-law and granddaughters too! We had a blast!”

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