Robotic Surgery - Personal Trainer Brian Schoenborn

UI Health Surgeons Perform Robotic Whipple Surgery

In 2011, I was 47 years old, happily married with four young kids and busy operating my own fitness business.

One night I woke up from a sound sleep, itching. Over the next few weeks, the itching got worse and worse. I finally went to see my doctor, and they ran a lot of tests.  

I knew something was really wrong when the doctor brought me into a room and said he wanted to speak with my wife as well. Nothing prepares you for the shock of hearing you have cancer. I just felt numb. My wife was crying.  

My doctor diagnosed me with a type of pancreatic cancer - a tumor in my digestive system where the liver and pancreas meet. He told me I needed to have a special surgery called the Whipple procedure and recommended that I see a specialist at University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System.  

It made me feel better to know there was a plan in place.  

My surgery involved removing portions of my stomach, pancreas, gall bladder and intestine. In the old days, they said, I would have needed a large, open incision across the front of my body. But UI Health can perform the procedure with a robot through just a tiny incision. In fact, my surgeon, Dr. Pier Giulianotti was the first in the world ever to perform a robotic assisted Whipple. So I was in good hands!  

Along with my wife, Dr. Giulianotti practically didn't leave my side. During the time I was in the hospital, he was scheduled to go on a vacation. He canceled it to stay with me till I was better. He is an amazing doctor - hands on, positive, motivating. Dr. G and the team at UI Health saved my life.  

It's now been three years since my surgery and chemo. Coming back from cancer is the hardest thing I've ever done. On the bad days, I told myself, "Just keep pushing. Rest. And then push!" I did it for my family and our future together.  

Gradually, I have begun competing again - participating in triathlons, duathlons, obstacle races and other road races. This fall, I competed in the Spartan Beast - a half-marathon with 27 obstacles involving 8-foot walls, ropes, barbed wire and sand bags. I finished first for my age group and 32nd out of 3,688 overall.  

I would have never been able to do all this without Dr. Giulianotti's surgery and some higher powers watching me as well. I am always grateful.