Stories of Hope
Pancreatic Cancer Survivor Determined to Fight
Article date: November 15, 2012
"The only thing you can do is, you have to fight it. I told the doctor, 'I know I'm going to die sometime, but it's not going to be this damn cancer.'"
Pancreatic cancer struck Ron Blaho’s family in the spring of 2008. Between the beginning of April and the middle of May, Blaho, his brother, and his sister were all diagnosed with the disease. Only Blaho, now 71, survived.
Enduring treatment and recovery while mourning his brother and sister were tough for Blaho. He said, “I miss them both, but the only thing you can do is, you have to fight it. I told the doctor, ‘I know I’m going to die sometime, but it’s not going to be this damn cancer.’”
Blaho’s brother and sister had a different type of pancreatic cancer than he did. Even so, doctors tested Blaho for a genetic mutation that would indicate a hereditary cause for his cancer. They didn’t find one.
Diagnosis and treatment
The pancreas is an organ behind the stomach that releases fluids into the intestines that help digest food. It also releases hormones including insulin that help control the amount of sugar in the blood.
Blaho’s first sign of something wrong was leg pain so severe he couldn’t sleep. As he began the first of several medical visits for tests, the doctor noticed Blaho was losing weight without trying – another sign something was wrong. A test called an endoscopic ultrasound found growths in his pancreas. He was diagnosed with intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms (IPMNs), small tumors in the pancreas that might have the potential to become cancerous. The growths were so numerous, surgeons removed the entire pancreas.
When doctors examined Blaho’s pancreas after surgery, they discovered the growths had already become cancerous and started to spread. Blaho would need additional treatment. He underwent more surgery to remove his gall bladder, spleen, part of his stomach, and the first part of his small intestine. And he had 6 weeks of chemotherapy.
Life without a pancreas
Without the fluids and hormones to digest his food and control his blood sugar, Blaho is dependent on drugs. He takes enzyme pills with every meal and injects himself with insulin 4 to 6 times a day. He keeps careful track of his carbohydrates, writing down almost everything he eats in a notebook.
Blaho said he still does everything he wants to do. He said, “My real hero in life is Stephen Hawking. He can’t move a muscle and he still does what he wants to do.”
He has adopted some healthy habits, including walking for exercise. He has dropped his weight – on purpose this time – from a high of 240 lbs to about 130. (He’s 5’ 6”.)
He has become involved with a pancreatic cancer advocacy group, volunteering to talk to people newly diagnosed with the same syndrome he had. Last June he traveled from his home in Waynesville, Ohio to Washington, DC to encourage lawmakers to devote more federal research funding for pancreatic cancer.