Elva Blendt

Pancreatic Cancer Patient Stories

Elva Blendt

Elva Blendt isn't one to run to the doctor. In fact, the plainspoken 78-year-old would be the first to say that she's usually "scared to death of doctors." Which was why, when she started having shortness of breath back in December 2004, it took her granddaughter Nicole's insistence to get her to the emergency room.

"I wasn't really having symptoms, exactly, I just was feeling weird."

"I wasn't really having symptoms, exactly, I just was feeling weird. Not breathing right," recalled the Smyrna, Delaware resident. A battery of tests and a 4-day hospital stay revealed a diagnosis: Elva had pancreatic cancer. She was referred to Fox Chase Cancer Center for treatment.

Elva calls Dr. Watson her "Number One."

Which is where she met the doctor she now calls "number one," James C. Watson, MD, FACS, a surgeon who specializes in treating patients with complex gastrointestinal cancers. Dr. Watson recommended that Elva have a Whipple Procedure, also called a pancreaticoduodenectomy. Dr. Watson is among a handful of surgeons in the country who are skilled at this demanding surgical procedure. It would take this procedure - which involves removing the head of the pancreas, some of the small intestine and the gall bladder - to save her life.

"Everyone at Fox Chase was just great. Everybody knows you. It's comfortable."

"I wanted to fight, but I have to admit I was petrified," she said. She had lost her husband to sarcoma in 2000. "They told me if I'd waited another 6 weeks, it would have been too late." That Dr. Watson, I just love him," she said. "Everyone at Fox Chase was just great. It looks like such a big place on the TV commercials, but when you're there, it feels small. Everybody knows you. It's comfortable."

Elva came through the surgery with flying colors. "They call me the miracle patient," she said. "I'm one of the lucky ones." Dr. Watson oversaw her chemotherapy and radiation treatments, which took place at a hospital in Dover, Delaware, near her house. The close proximity to her 3 children, 6 grand children and 8 great grandchildren helped see her through the surgery and recovery. "Everything went well. My family helped me get through everything. I just didn't spend much time thinking about how bad things were. I just wanted to come out the other side."

"Get to Fox Chase fast - don't waste any time. Hopefully you'll be as blessed as me."

In 2010, almost 6 years later, Elva only has to see her favorite doctor once a year. She's healthy, back to enjoying the beach and her favorite pastime, reading mysteries. "My eyes are pretty good, even though I am 78," said the retired waitress. Other than taking an antacid medicine, she hasn't dealt with major digestion issues after the surgery. "I eat smaller meals, more often, but I'm good with my weight," she said. Her advice to anyone facing this difficult diagnosis? "Get to Fox Chase fast - don't waste any time. Hopefully you'll be as blessed as me."