Sunday, October 24, 2021

Michael Donnelly, a story of hope

Michael Donnelly. Submitted

Michael Donnelly. Submitted

By Jane Marlowe

Michael Donnelly divides his time between Rochester, NY and Marco Island, FL. He is a consultant with Employee Relations Associates guiding clients through “Career Transition” programs, advising them on new career opportunities and their implications, including whether moving from one part of the country to another is in their best interest. He recommends visiting a new area or city, meeting business owners, contacting the Chamber of Commerce, getting a sense of the community. He has a happy family life with his wife, Helen, three daughters, Kimberly, Heather and Laura and extended family and friends. He plays golf and enjoys the many amenities Marco Island has to offer. Not unusual or different from the lives of most of our readers? No, except that Michael Donnelly is a cancer survivor. He is a pancreatic cancer survivor which places him in a special category of survivors. 76% of pancreatic cancer patients die within the first year. Survival rate after five years is less than 5%. Michael has survived for seven and one half years and is in good health.

Michael’s resume describes his education in Broadcast Communications at Kent State University, Kent, Ohio, his career in Communications and Consultation with some of this country’s premier companies, Eastman Kodak, the Du Pont Company, The Smithonian Institution, Holliman Associates specializing in Capital Campaign Programs for churches, schools, hospitals and community organizations. In 1994 he served as Director of Communications/Press Secretary for Tom Golisano, an Independent Party candidate seeking the Governorship of New York. Michael has served as Director/Chief Executive Officer, The Genesee Hospital Foundation, Rochester, NY administering an $18 million Foundation. He is also the Executive Director of the Rochester Italian Heritage Foundation of Rochester, Inc. whose primary goal is providing scholarships for deserving high school students.

In September, 2003, Michael was quite busy serving as Vice President of Organizational Development, Easter Seals, New York when he noticed discoloration of his face, his eyes and between his fingers. It quickly spread and, although he had no pain associated with the jaundice, he consulted his physician. A CT scan and X-rays were inconclusive and the tests were rerun at the University of Rochester Medical Center. A tumor was discovered between the bile duct and pancreas. Michael’s surgeon recommended a surgery technique called a Whipple procedure.

Michael, using the same good business practices he advised for his clients, checked his surgeon’s credentials before consulting him. He discovered he had grown up in Cleveland, Ohio, Michael’s own hometown, earned degrees from MIT, New York University Medical School and Johns Hopkins University Medical School. He had a fine reputation as part of the Oncology Team at the University of Rochester Medical Center and Michael agreed to the procedure, confident in his medical team and his own “determination to beat this thing.”

On November 6, 2003 the Whipple procedure was performed. The surgery required 6 hours and followed a very regimented structure based on Michael’s specific diagnosis. The pancreas lies behind the stomach and is difficult to access. An endoscopic tube was inserted to explore the site and removal of the tumor, gall bladder and one third of the pancreas was performed. The results of the surgery indicated that on one side of the tumor the area was clear and on the other side the lymph node was involved, a warning sign that the cancer could have spread. Prognosis was that the cancer likely would reoccur.

A treatment plan was devised as part of a clinical study at the University of Rochester Medical Center. The plan included 6-7 weeks of radiation, chemotherapy and self-medication of interferon three nights a week. A port was inserted in Michael’s upper chest to administer chemotherapy. The six month intensive study involved several patients all of whom experienced differing reactions to the interventions. Each patient was carefully monitored by the full Oncology Team with CT scans and regular blood work.

The intensive treatment resulted in high toxicity rates for Michael, a large burn on his back and loss of his fingernails, long since grown back. He has had to monitor his diet carefully limiting sugar and slowly reintroducing certain leafy green vegetables. The study was terminated in 2004 with CT scans scheduled every 3 months post treatment for one year. Currently he has one CT scan each year. To date he has undergone 25 CT scans in 8 years.

Michael is part of PANCAN based in Manhattan Beach, California, an organization which counsels individuals who are considering a Whipple procedure or have had the surgery and have concerns about their progress. He receives calls from all over the country and shares his own experience and offers counsel to people who are facing the same dramatic decisions or concerns which confronted him and his family in 2003. Michael accepts frequent invitations to speak before cancer survivor and support groups throughout the country.

He is on the Board of Directors of the James P. Wilmont Cancer Center, University of Rochester Medical Center where oncology specialists continue to follow his status. He is an advisor to the American Cancer Society, Lakes Region and is active with the Marco Island American Cancer Society Support Group when he is in residence. Michael praised Jan Whitebook, who has run the Support Group for many years devoting countless hours to counseling and assisting survivors navigate the physical and emotional challenges of their diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

Michael Donnelly recognizes that he is an extremely fortunate man. His own “determination to beat this thing” led him to seek help from a well trained oncology surgeon, part of a team at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Confident in his surgeon he did not try to second guess him or research the internet for alternative treatments. He participated in his own treatment plan including agreeing to the intensive clinical trial post surgery. He never asked “why me?” rather asked “how did this happen?” His surgeon responded. “Bad luck.”

His deep faith in God sustained him and kept his faith in himself strong. He credits his wife, Helen and their three daughters for their unwavering support. Their prayers and support for him were reinforced by family in Ohio and many friends and colleagues who stormed Heaven with their petitions on his behalf. Michael and Helen pray in thanksgiving every day for the gift of life he has received and for continued blessings in the life of their family and those for whom they have promised to pray. They have particular devotion to St. Peregrine, recognized in the Catholic Church as the patron saint of all who have cancer. Michael returned to work at Easter Seals as soon as doctors allowed and never gave up believing he would survive. More than seven years later he is enjoying a full, busy and happy life.

Michael’s advice to people who face a diagnosis of cancer is straightforward.

  • Know the credentials of the hospital or medical center where you seek treatment.
  • Know the education and training of the doctor/surgeon you select..
  • What is the plan recommended for your diagnosis?
  • Be an active participant in your own medical care from awareness of a problem to recovery.
  • Are there any clinical trials available in which you can participate?

Above all have faith in God, in yourself and your family. Michael may be reached at


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