Nancy Ballew goes down a long list of people she knew who lost their battle to pancreatic cancer, and, being a survivor of the disease herself, she wants to share her story in hopes others diagnosed can beat it, too.
November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and Ballew figured it was a perfect time to talk about her experience. She said so many have perished to the disease and never had a chance to share their story – Ballew, who said she’s so lucky to be alive, wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to share hers.
Ballew, 76, is a retired school nurse originally from Mississippi who currently resides in Salley. Her life was first touched by pancreatic cancer in 1958 when her uncle passed away from it. In 1959, at the age of 62, her father died after fighting the same illness.
As years passed, neighbors, fellow church members and others made a growing list of people Ballew knew who succumbed to the disease, which typically doesn’t present its symptoms during the early stages. Ballew cited several celebrities who also died from the disease, including actor Patrick Swayze, Italian opera singer Luciano Pavarotti and Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs.
“Pancreatic cancer is a silent killer,” Ballew said. “For so many people, it’s a death sentence. I was just fortunate.”
The American Cancer Society estimated from past statistics that around 43,920 people would be diagnosed with the disease in 2012 and approximately 37,390 would die from pancreatic cancer.
Ballew was diagnosed on March 20, 2009. She was experiencing some strange sensations around her abdomen and upper back. She mentioned it to her doctor, a CT scan was done and she received the call that had the solemn answer to all her questions later that evening.
“It didn’t bother me particularly,” Ballew said, adding that with her family’s history with the disease, she wasn’t surprised by the diagnosis. “The main thing I wanted to do was get it out.”
On April 8 of that same year, Ballew underwent major surgery at Palmetto Health Baptist in Columbia and 55 percent of her pancreas was removed. Fortunately, the cancer didn’t spread but she went through five and a half weeks of radiation and oral chemotherapy as a precaution.
Ballew commended the hospital staff and said she had little to no side effects from the treatment. She quipped that she ate three pecks of peaches during the process which she believes kept her feeling great.
Since the surgery, Ballew has been free of pancreatic cancer and takes medication to assist with digestion. Ballew has done research online and read several books about the disease to better educate herself.
The outcome of her last battle was positive, but a new challenge has presented itself. Ballew has recently developed chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a slow-progressing blood and bone marrow disease. She is unsure if the cancer treatments contributed to the development of the disease.
Ballew is keeping her head up, though, and said despite the diagnosis, she feels OK. Her main focus these days, besides her own health, is making sure others pay attention to the little signs their bodies send them.
“I want other people to know that you don’t have to have a big pain somewhere for this to take place,” Ballew said. “I want them to know if they know their body, they can tell if something is not quite right. I just want people to be able to survive and if they know those little things may not be normal, maybe they can get help.”
Symptoms can include jaundice, weight loss, fatigue, pain, digestive issues, change in stools, blood clots and more.
For more information about pancreatic cancer, visit www.pancan.org.