Surgeon helps patient survive pancreatic cancer

Expertise, compassion and next-door neighbor attitude improve healing


The power of positivity has kept Arthur “Chip” Hollister on a road to recovery. He was treated first for prostate cancer and then pancreatic cancer.

Chip Hollister is back to enjoying travel, including a recent trip to Costa Rica. (Photo courtesy of Chip Hollister.)
Chip Hollister is back to enjoying travel, including a recent trip to Costa Rica. (Photo courtesy of Chip Hollister.)

During a visit to his primary care doctor in 2018, Hollister learned his prostate cancer may have metastasized. A surveillance PET scan then showed an area of concern on his pancreas. 

Sepideh Gholami, a hepatobiliary and oncology surgeon with UC Davis Health, believed Hollister could be a good candidate for surgery, as long as he had pancreatic cancer instead of metastatic prostate cancer. She presented his case at a multidisciplinary gastrointestinal tumor board and recommended a biopsy. The test confirmed he had pancreatic cancer, as Gholami suspected.

At that point, Hollister recalled, everything moved into high gear.

“Everyone gets on board when they hear ‘pancreatic cancer,’” Gholami said. “Chip was very fit and had a good prognosis with regard to his prostate cancer. I believed he deserved to have a chance to have his pancreas cancer removed.”

Within two weeks of diagnosis, Hollister was in an operating room for a pancreaticoduodenectomy, commonly known as Whipple surgery. The complex procedure involved removing the head of his pancreas and first part of his small intestine (duodenum), along with his gallbladder, bile duct and part of his stomach.

UC Davis was the clear choice

Hollister lives in the Bay Area and had a wide choice in hospitals for his surgery. When his doctor recommended UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, he was sold. The decision was personal, and a bit humorous.

“I had taken my Labrador retrievers to the School of Veterinary Medicine and knew UC Davis was a great school,” Hollister said. “It didn’t take much convincing for me to choose UC Davis for myself.”

Before meeting Gholami, Hollister did his research about her and was impressed.

Sepideh Gholami copyright UC Regents
Hollister credits surgeon Sepideh Gholami for his recovery.

“I didn’t even know what ‘fellowship trained’ meant,” Hollister said. “But I know she had the experience, attitude and ability to do this.”

Hollister and his wife, Susie, still put Gholami to the test. Whenever they see a new doctor, they ask, “Are you any good at this?” and then sit back and wait for a startled look from the physician. Gholami impressed them. She didn’t miss a beat explaining her qualifications and certainty in giving him the best care possible.

“She was so incredible, so calm, so confident,” Hollister said.

He also didn’t expect how comfortable she made him feel.

“It was like meeting your next-door neighbor,” Hollister said. “She was positive and kind and genuinely cared.”

‘Cancer won’t rule’

Hollister’s positivity continues to this day. 

“Every day when you get up and the sun is shining, it’s a good day,” he said. “Cancer won’t rule my life.”

Hollister is now back doing what he loves: traveling and photography. He and Susie recently went to Alaska and Costa Rica.

“Without the fantastic results of my Whipple surgery, there was a very good chance I would never be planning another trip,” Hollister said.

In addition to surgery, he also received chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but no longer does. He is monitored biannually both by his primary care doctor and Gholami.

During a recent follow-up appointment, Gholami moved Hollister to tears when she told him, “You know you’re still my patient and I want to see you after every CT scan so we can go over how things are going. You’re my rock star!”

Hollister still gets a little choked up talking about his experiences at UC Davis Health, and said he couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

“I will be forever in debt to Dr. Gholami,” Hollister said. “She and her team saved my life. I am so thankful!”

Related stories and information

Meet our bile duct and liver cancer team
Boldly learning: Sepideh Gholami – I am a surgeon and a researcher
Hepatobiliary surgery at UC Davis Health
Surgical oncology at UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

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