Ken Swan is not just a pumpkin farmer, he is THE pumpkin farmer in Racine County, Wis.
"We are in our 45th season as a destination pumpkin farm; we get thousands of people through here every year."
It was during the 40th season of Swan's Pumpkin farm when Ken received difficult news — he had pancreatic cancer. "Nobody ever told me how long I had to live or anything like that. I didn't even want to know. I'm not a big going-to-the-doctor kinda guy, but I knew this was serious. They said I needed this thing called a Whipple procedure to treat my cancer." It's a complicated surgery that removes all or part of the pancreas, cuts out the cancer, and still allows you to digest food, after.
"We went to a few hospitals but then a friend of mine told me I needed to go see Douglas Evans, MD, at Froedtert (Hospital). We found out that some really well-known hospitals only do a Whipple a few times a year and that Dr. Evans does it a few times every WEEK! He's the top pancreatic cancer surgeon in the world!"
Dr. Evans is the Donald C. Ausman Family Foundation Professor of Surgery and Chair of the Department of Surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Internationally recognized for treating patients with pancreas cancer, patients throughout the country and around the world have sought him out for treatment.
Ken says the surgery was really, "no big deal," for him. The chemotherapy, he says, was another story. "Chemo wasn't easy … it wasn't fun. But, one day at a time. One chemo at a time. We got through it. When you're fighting cancer, you do what's recommended, because you want the best outcome."
Ken and his family got about the best outcome anyone could hope for. He just had his five-year scan, and he's still cancer-free. "It's Dr. Evans, and it's the team. If they're doing these surgeries three or four times a week, well, you certainly feel a lot more comfortable knowing that this team, headed by Dr. Evans, is doing the surgery. That's what really sold us."
Now, out here among the pumpkins, Ken is focused on his farm. He says he and Dr. Evans became friends and that he stops here to visit when he's in the area. Farmer Ken thinks they have something in common. "When you're the best pancreatic cancer surgeon in the world … I guess it is like selling pumpkins, you see new people every week. But Dr. Evans is so personable! What a guy! I know he likes sailing, I don't know why he likes pumpkin farms, but he really thinks this is the greatest thing!"
Ken and his family have graciously chosen to give back, making gifts to the We Care Fund for Medical Innovation and Research, which supports physicians and scientists dedicated to finding new treatments and cures for cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
And even though Ken's attention is on the pumpkins, he always remembers how fortunate he is. "We are grateful. We're very, very grateful. I mean, what would have been the alternative without Dr. Evans and his team and the Whipple procedure? Yeah, we're grateful."
He even gets a little choked up when he talks about it. "They are relentless. Such wonderful people. And they … they saved me. And I'm sure other people at other hospitals may tell the same story, but Froedtert is our number one choice if we're going to have anything done."
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Ken, it is especially nice to see you healthy and enjoying life. Thank you for all you are doing to support Dr. Evans and his team. You are right, he is the best!