Local pancreatic cancer survivor honored at Bears game

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

mike and susan photo 11-16

Submitted photo

Oak Lawn residents Mike and Susan Shrader attended the Bears-Green Bay Packer game Sunday at Soldier Field. Mike was selected by Advocate Christ Medical Center to attend the game after surviving pancreatic cancer and in recognition of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.


Oak Lawn resident Mike Shrader and his wife, Susan, attended the Bears vs. Green Bay Packers game on Sunday at Soldier Field. But this was not just a routine family outing.

Although he is a Bears fan, Shrader is also a survivor of pancreatic cancer and because of his remarkable recovery, he was selected by Advocate Christ Medical Center to attend the November game in recognition of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.

As honored guests, Shrader and his wife were recognized before the game and participated in the Bear Down flag unfurling ceremony that takes place on the field before the game.

“It was an honor and a privilege to be asked to do this,” said Shrader. “I was thrilled to be able to hold the flag and to show my respect for our veterans.”

Shrader is a former Chicago firefighter and in 2001 he joined the hundreds of firefighters who traveled to New York in the weeks after the Twin Towers crumbled in the 9/11 attacks.

“I worked on one of the bucket brigades sifting through the ruins,” he said.

Shrader said he has always been healthy and active and hardly ever sick. That is until January of 2016.

“It was during the holiday season of December, 2015 that I began to feel bad,” recalled Shrader. “I have always had a good appetite, but I just didn’t feel like eating. I was getting nauseous and had some pain on my left side and was losing weight.

“On Jan. 7, 2016, the pain was so bad I asked my wife to take me to the ER at Advocate Christ. When the diagnosis was pancreatic cancer, I figured it was the end of the line for me. I knew people usually didn’t survive this cancer. I decided not to even try any treatment. I would just let nature take its course.”

He was told that without treatment he had about 16 weeks to live. However, in his case, he was told he had an option of surgery.

“With my wife and daughter in tears, begging me not to give up and to please agree to the surgery, I realized that I wasn’t ready to die yet,” Shrader said. It was clear that they were not going to let me take a ‘do-nothing’ approach.“

On Jan. 13, just six days after his diagnosis, he underwent surgery performed by Dr. Marc Mesleh, a hepatobiliary surgeon at Advocate Christ.

Unbelievably, five weeks after his operation, Shrader was on vacation in St. Lucia and was able to do some snorkeling before he had to start his chemo and radiation treatments.

“I handled the chemo better than I did the radiation,” said Shrader. I was even able to go golfing with the chemo pump in my fanny pack. The radiation was harder on me. I took it five days a week for a month and I would be so exhausted I couldn’t even walk out to my yard.”

Today, he is cancer-free.

“I am fine now. Not quite the way I was before, but I am good. Many positives came out of this experience. I have a new appreciation for life and I am so glad I went ahead with the treatments. I used to be a pretty gruff guy, but I am a lot more emotional now. I had wonderful doctors, especially Dr. Mesleh and a wonderful nurse, Kelly Baker. Without her I couldn’t have gotten through all this. I was told attitude has a huge effect on a cancer patient’s outcome. So, I live each day with a zest for life.”

Shrader’s admiration for his doctor is mutual.

“Mike is awesome and is truly inspirational. He initially didn’t even want surgery because he believed pancreatic cancer was unsurvivable, and now he has come so far and is doing so well. He and his wife Susan keep in touch with me and often share photos. I love seeing all of the things they are doing. His story shows that pancreatic cancer isn’t a death sentence and that people can go through surgery and still have a functioning life,” Mesleh said..

Baker, who is a GI nurse navigator at Advocate Christ, was also impressed with Shrader’s attitiude.

“When I met Mike and his family in January of 2016, I immediately felt the positive energy and love surrounding him,” Baker said. “He has inspired all of us on his team here at Advocate Christ by his high energy, positive attitude and gusto for living life to its fullest. I have been so grateful to see him surviving and thriving.”

“The support of family, friends and even people I didn’t know before the diagnosis has been unbelievable. No one can do this cancer thing alone. I know that I am so very blessed to be one of the lucky ones and am grateful to be a survivor,” Shrader said.