By Mark Ellis —
Linda Ludlow noticed some unusual digestive problems in 2022 and initially attributed it to a protein supplement she added to her diet.
“I wasn’t feeling that well, digestively, and it got worse and worse,” Linda told God Reports. “The diarrhea was severe.”
A close friend urged her to see a doctor, but she resisted. “I’ve really never been sick in my life, and I didn’t even have a GP (general practitioner).”
Recently, she had been organizing a sailing trip with several girlfriends to the Greek Islands. “My girlfriends and I were all sailors, and I was planning this trip for two years. I’m usually the one that organizes it.” Sailing with girlfriends was a wonderful diversion for Linda after a painful separation from her husband a dozen years ago.
She found a gastroenterologist, Dr. Michael Santoro, who ordered blood tests and an MRI. “He called me in the middle of Bible study, and I never answer my phone in Bible study.”
“Linda, there’s something that’s not looking quite right,” he said carefully. “Your bile duct is swollen and your blood work is showing some variations.
He recommended she see Dr. Ahmad Abbass, a highly-regarded specialist known for pioneering robotic surgical techniques on the pancreas. Dr. Abbass ordered a CAT scan with contrast.
The results seemed inconclusive at first. “All they told me is that I may have a tumor or growth of some kind. Cancer does not run in my family, so I wasn’t worried one bit.”
Then Dr. Abbass ordered a biopsy of Linda’s pancreas, but a panel that reviewed the biopsy labeled it inconclusive. “The time was ticking, and I’m supposed to be the helmsman on our trip. It’s not like we can just put somebody else in there,” she notes.
She met with Dr. Santoro and asked him point blank, “Can I still go to Greece?”
Dr. Santoro is a strong Christian, and he received a nudge from the Holy Spirit. “Linda, I don’t feel right about this,” he replied. “I don’t agree with the biopsy. I just can’t let it go, because God will not let it go in my heart. Go back to Dr. Abbass and see what He says. He does this every day.”
Sitting in the office of Dr. Abbass, he showed Linda a little yellow square on his screen. “That’s your tumor,” he informed her.
“Well, okay. Can I go to Greece and come back and have surgery?”
His face got very serious. “Linda, that’s cancer. Pancreatic cancer is very deadly. You’re having surgery right away, like a week from today. As soon as I can get a robot, we’re going to do this robotically.”
Soon Linda learned she would be having a Whipple procedure, one of the most complex surgeries in medicine, lasting six to eight hours. Dr. Abbass would be removing the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine, the gallbladder, and possibly a portion of Linda’s stomach. The remaining organs would then be reconnected to allow her digestion to return to normal.
“You can’t live without a pancreas,” she notes. “And that’s why it’s so deadly and they don’t usually find the cancer because the pancreas is tiny, and it sits behind the gallbladder and the stomach. And so the reason it’s so deadly, is because they find it too late.”
Fortunately, in Linda’s case, the cancer was found relatively early.
“Most people go in with jaundice and that’s a sure sign it’s pancreatic cancer, and they die within four months to a year. It has an 85% death rate.”
Shortly after her diagnosis, Linda attended a women’s retreat at her church. “I thought, I’m gonna die. And I cried, and I had a little meltdown.
“The next morning, we were in worship, and we sang this song, ‘Just give me Jesus.’ My arms went up in the air. I was worshipping God and the Holy Spirit just poured into my body in that moment. I just cried and worshipped and went into a zone that I don’t know if I’ve ever been in.”
Then God impressed this on Linda’s heart: Don’t worry, I’ve got you.
“Lord, it’s okay. If this is my time, I’m fine. I don’t need this world. Just give me Jesus,” she whispered quietly to her Lord.
From that moment on, she felt the Lord’s presence with her. “I never cried again. I was at total peace,” she recalls.
Dr. Abbass is originally from Lebanon, and was a highly regarded surgeon overseas, before he moved his family to the U.S. “He had to go through medical school again, and he breezed through it,” Linda notes.
He made a mid-career switch from being a heart surgeon to specializing in the pancreas. “He learned how to do the surgery robotically. There’s only a handful of people in the United States that do this surgery robotically, and he pretty much taught all the others. He’s the only one on the West Coast. He just happens to be at Mission Hospital; he just happens to be at the Leonard Cancer Center, and he just happened to be a friend of my GI doctor,” Linda marvels. “God just puts me in his lap.”
During the surgery, something surprising happened. “In the middle of surgery. Dr. Abbas stopped the surgery, if you can even imagine that. Here, we’ve got this very expensive robot, seven very highly trained people that they call in to assist on these kinds of surgeries.
“He stopped it because the Lord put some veins shaped in a perfect heart on my
gallbladder. And doctor Abbass said wait a minute, stop everything. He came out from around this thing with his phone and takes a picture and saved it for me. That heart became so famous, all over Mission Hospital, He said, ‘I’ve never seen this before.’
“I said, ‘That’s God, that’s God telling you and me that he’s got me. He’s got me covered.”
Dr. Abbass believes the unusual heart-shaped pattern was caused by the way he took hold of the gall bladder with his robotic instrument. “I grabbed the organs with those small robotic instruments,” he told God Reports. “And that robotic instrument that I grabbed the gallbladder with left an impression on the gallbladder that looked like a heart.”
Linda had been prepared to spend a minimum of 10 days in the hospital after her surgery. Instead, she was sent home four days later.
Dr. Abbass was amazed at the rapidity of her recovery. “Usually, the patients are in the hospital between 10 to 14 days, and it takes them like six weeks to recover. She was at home four days after surgery.”
Initially, Linda felt great. But a week later, she started getting dizzy and lightheaded, then developed a fever that spiked to 104 degrees. An infection had originated at the site where Dr. Abbass reconnected the bile duct.
On July 1, 2022 she was readmitted to Providence Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, California, where various antibiotic combinations were tried over the next week, with no success. Dr. Abbass informed her he wanted to drain an abscess that had developed in the area of the infection.
“I wasn’t looking forward to the pain I knew was coming. This young kid picks me up, he’s got me on a gurney, he’s got to transport me from my room over to the other hospital tower for surgery. So we’re breezing along, it’s very early in the morning, we’re going through this tower.
Then God did something that reminded Linda again that he had her under his covering.
“I was praying to God, and I looked up and there was an angel flying over me. I’ve never seen anything like that in my entire life – and wasn’t under any anesthesia yet.”
A broad smile broke out on Linda’s face as she looked up at the heavenly being.
Linda describes the angel as being like a flowing, puffy white cloud, with a head, wings, and a body. “I felt a breeze over me. Her face was blurred. Everything else was just more like a puffy cloud.
The angel encounter gave Linda an abundance of peace during her procedure.
She spent eight days in the hospital. During her stay, she ended up praying with many of those on the nursing staff. “Providence Mission is a Catholic hospital,” she notes. “Over the PA every morning in the hallways they open with prayer and every night they close with prayer. My room was close enough to the nurse’s station, so I could hear it out in the hallway. It was just another blessing.”
After a few months, Linda started chemotherapy, which involved eight-hour-long infusions, sitting in a chair, two days a week. “It was very severe, with all kinds of side effects.”
Remarkably, Linda managed to keep up her Bible study during the infusions. “There were people that weren’t in the Bible study that would sit with me, and follow along while we did the Bible study. And then the nurses became part of the Bible study because they had to keep coming in and out. They got to know everybody, and so they were blessed.”
On her last day of chemo, there was a celebration. “When you walk out they ring bells. I wrote them a long card and told them different things about the Lord. It was really teary, but so joyful because
they said, ‘Linda, we don’t get to see this with pancreatic cancer. And so it was special for them.”
“Now my CAT scans are clean, my bloodwork is clean; everyone believes that I’m 100% cured.”
Dr. Abbass concurs. “So far, she seems to have beaten cancer. Linda is really an amazing woman, so full of life.”
Linda wants people to find hope in the Lord as they face cancer. “I have never felt so close to God in my whole life. For a total year, I was quarantined because COVID was still out there. I went from my house to the hospital and to the cancer center and no place else for almost a complete year.
“It was just God and me in this cocoon. How often in anybody’s life, can you shut down your life and stop everything, and just be with God?
“When I got out of quarantine, I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to leave this cocoon. It was a gift. And the other gift was the love. God showed me his love.
“After a broken marriage I was brokenhearted. I’ve been hurting, but God says, Look at all the love. You are greatly, greatly loved. And I had a thank you luncheon last Friday. And there were 42 people there who brought me meals, who sat with me, who visited me, and who prayed for me. I’ll Never forget it.”
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