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From Canyon To Cove: Fellow survivor offers his support to others

June 30, 2011|By Cindy Frazier
  • Sally Sanders and Jeff Ross.
Sally Sanders and Jeff Ross. (Coastline Pilot )

Laguna Beach accountant Jeffrey Ross was a fit 54 when a sudden pain in his abdomen caused him to pass out and sent him down a course of medical investigation that led to a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, a 12-hour surgery, and a grim prognosis that he would have six to nine months to live. That was eight years ago.

Fighting the cancer would lead Ross into a new life of advocacy with a new wife by his side — Sally Sanders, a critical care nurse who proposed to him on the beach after his diagnosis.

I met Ross when he wrote me after my two columns were published about my own battle with pancreatic cancer. I admit it was an emotional moment when I read his first email, offering support and guidance through this difficult journey.

I was just coming to terms with this life-changing disease — finally feeling better after a lengthy surgery, two hospitalizations and enjoying the intermittent feeling of being well enough to do "normal" things like go to work, plant a garden and cook a meal. But I still suffered from deep bouts of despair that would suddenly hit when I least expected it, usually while enjoying those very activities that I used to take for granted.

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Ross's email came out of the blue: He was the "eight-year survivor" and cancer advocate that my surgeon, Dr. Sean Cao, had told me about when describing how difficult this disease is and the toll it takes. We both had our surgeries at Orange Coast Memorial in Fountain Valley under the hand of Dr. Cao; we even had the same doctors at UC Irvine Medical Center. We both thought Dr. Cao a brilliant surgeon and felt lucky to have been operated on by him.

There are other similarities: We were both in our 50s when the cancer struck, making us among the younger victims; in relatively good health; both lucky to be in strong, sustaining relationships. It was nice to be able to share a joke about a certain doctor's penchant for raw bluntness. It was nice to know someone who has the same "Mercedes-Benz" incision scars and who has been through chemo and radiation (which I was just beginning).

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