DURHAM, N.C. — Survivors, oncology specialists and Duke hospital staff celebrated 50 years of service Thursday at the Duke Cancer Institute.


What You Need To Know

The Duke Cancer Institute celebrated its 50th Anniversary

John Sanders survived pancreatic cancer

He was diagnosed in 2018 and hasbeen cancer-free since 2020


In 1971 the center opened its doors and half a century later there have been numerous advances in cancer discovery, including standard chemotherapy and radiation.

One of those people whose cancer brought him to the DCI is John Sanders.

“What it meant for me today is to share my story about the support and the cutting-edge technology that Duke uses. They gave me reassurance to fight — to fight, to go through that no matter what it took they would never leave me. I felt comfortable,” Sanders said.

Sanders, 64, is a cancer survivor. He was diagnosed with Stage 3 pancreatic cancer in 2018.

“It was shocking. I felt defeated, and I felt hopeless but only for a short period of time. Then my faith began to kick in,” Sanders said.

The former patient said he had almost every symptom upon diagnosis: rapid weight loss, jaundice of the liver, brown eyes, severe abdominal pain.

“I immediately seeked help,” he said.

Doctors in Augusta, Georgia provided an initial consultation. Sanders, who lives in North Augusta, South Carolina, said the cancer specialists offered a plan on how to attack the cancer inside his body. However, Sanders didn’t feel secure about their strategy.

He wanted a second medical opinion from the DCI.

“My thought process was that I was excited, I was anxious, and I was overwhelmed," he said. "When I made the initial phone call to Duke they were so receptive. They said, ‘Come on up.’”

That’s when Sanders made the four-and-a-half hour drive in the spring of 2018.

“I felt the love. I felt the care, and I felt the treatment,” he said.

Dr. Kevin Shah, a surgical oncologist, performed a 12-hour-operation to safely remove a cancerous mast on his pancreas on May 6, 2018 at Duke University Hospital.

After his surgery, he would return to South Carolina.

Sanders began a full year of chemotherapy, including oral medications, on June 14 of the same year. His physical state would be too weak to drive back and forth to North Carolina.

“It was too far for me to travel,” he said.

Dr. John Howard Strickler, a DCI medical oncologist, devised a treatment plan to be followed by specialists across the state line at the Augusta Oncology center in Georgia.

Once the chemotherapy ended, he returned to DCI for three to four months of radiation treatments.

“I felt like I was in good hands. They gave me hope. They gave me resilience,” Sanders said.

He said he became cancer-free in May 2020 only because of the care he received at DCI.

“When you are in a journey like this, you’re physically challenged from the treatment. You’re spiritually bankrupt, and you are emotionally drained. Any help or positive reinforcement fulfills all those three needs in one. It gives you energy, the will to fight to push on,” he said.

He said his whole process was he had to make it to DCI to stay alive.

“My overall quality of life is great. I live, I love, my hope is strong, and my faith is strong,” he said.

Sanders is a devout Christian and considers his second chance at life part of a divine plan.

“I look positive. I am not negative anymore. I’m living again. I’m doing things that I used to do and getting back to living life that’s normal with my faith, my family, my friends, and we’re having fun. I’m enjoying it,” he said.