Couple Faces Pancreatic Cancer

Strong Marriage, Solid Resources Keep Them Focused


Cancer Center Nurse Louise Henry, R.N., gives Madeleiene a drink while her son, Julian Falley, looks on.

In May 2009, Madeleiene Burroughs of Fairfield had a monthlong stomach ache. That summer, thanks to the insistence of her husband, George Falley, she sought medical help and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the same cancer that took the life of actor Patrick Swayze much too soon.

“Doctors kept telling her to ‘go home and take an aspirin,’” says George. “Finally I got mad and stood up for my wife. We were in the ER and I said we weren’t leaving until we knew what was causing her pain.”

An MRI provided the answer just a few days later. A biopsy at UCSF Medical Center confirmed the diagnosis and the couple was referred to oncologist Brian Vikstrom, M.D., at the NorthBay Cancer Center. Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive form of cancer that forms in the tissues of the pancreas. Located in the lower abdomen behind the stomach, the pancreas aids in digestion.

While it was a diagnosis no one wanted to hear, the couple had the strength of their 40-year marriage to help Madeleiene tackle the disease. George took family leave from his job with San Francisco City Hall’s custodial department to spend months at his wife’s side.

“I cared for my grandmother and mother, so I’m well prepared to care for my wife,” says George. “The most important part of keeping Madeleiene comfortable is pain management, and I’ve become an expert at scheduling her drugs.”

Now back at work, George sets out his wife’s medications each morning before beginning his commute to the city. He is always available if she needs him.

“George and Madeleiene are both inspirations,” says Janet Black, R.N., clinical manager of medical oncology. “Madeleiene is so positive and George is totally dedicated to her care.”

Still, the couple knows future plans are made by the day, not the year. “I told Dr. Vikstrom to always tell us the truth,” George says. “We’ll cry a little and then move on, but we always want the truth. He’s been very honest with us.”

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