RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – When Tara Wilkes’ husband noticed a change in her skin color and eyes, a trip to the emergency room revealed the last thing they imagined – pancreatic cancer.

“Immediately I was thinking when the doctor said that ‘why go through the treatment, why not just walk out of here today and take what time I have and spend it with my family and not go through with the surgery if you can have the surgery,'” said Tara Wilkes.

Even with chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, Tara Wilkes was told the survival rate would likely be 18 to 24 months.

She decided to do whatever it would take to spend as much time as possible with her family and friends.

Including a procedure called Whipple surgery.

According to Duke Health, where Tara Wilkes was treated, up to 30 percent of early-stage pancreatic cancer patients may benefit from Whipple surgery.

Surgeons remove the head of the pancreas as well as portions of the small intestine, bile duct, gallbladder, and stomach.

Some lymph nodes may also be removed. The organs are reconstructed to allow food to pass through the digestive tract.

“It’s like a 10-hour procedure and she was in the hospital for 10 days. She came home, she recuperated a little bit, did more chemo and she’s been cancer-free now five years this past October,” said Tara’s husband, Neal.

The Duke Cancer Institute and its team of doctors and researchers have spent decades working and succeeding at improving the rate of survival from a list of cancers.

They credit patients like Tara Wilkes with helping to make that happen.

“Whether they responded well or did not respond well to that therapy we learn enormous amounts of information that then lets us apply that knowledge to the next generation of researchers and patients,” said Dr. Steven Patierno with the Duke Cancer Institute.

The 50-year war on cancer is now heading into the future with better technology, improved science, and human sacrifice.

“It is those people whose shoulders we stand on as we move forward. We’re looking forward to the next 50 years of research where our hope is that cancer as a major cause of human suffering will be in our rearview mirror,” said Patierno.

It’s also taking someone’s darkest days and giving them that light of possibility.

“There’s always that hope that you may be that one,” said Tara Wilkes.

Neal Wilkes added, “you know when they put her all back together everything works perfect. I mean it’s a miracle. That surgery was a miracle.”