With only occasional symptoms, it was the pre-trip stomach ache and a promise that saved Yolanda’s life.

Yolanda Jackson Laila Ali
Yolanda and Laila Ali

“I was planning to go out of the country for a few weeks…since I had a history of gastro problems, my doctor suggested I have a CT scan to make sure there was nothing wrong. I promised that I would,” she recalls. Stateside again in May, the pain and other complaints had dissipated.

“I thought it was a waste of time, but I’d promised, so I did it. The scan showed a tumor on the tail of my pancreas. Things started happening pretty quickly after that. I had a PET scan to confirm the diagnosis and that the tumor was malignant.”

Yolanda Jackson Billie Jean King
Yolanda and friend Billie Jean King

Being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early 2008 was decidedly different than she’d planned. “I had distal pancreatectomy surgery in June and started chemo soon after.”

As treatment progressed, Yolanda found a new appreciation for the family and friends that surrounded her. “It would be difficult, if not impossible, for me to have gone through this journey without a strong support group.”

That group was led by her long-time partner and champion Claudia, whose attention to detail was put to good use. “She took me to every appointment, kept a journal of my medications, my chemo treatments and more. She monitored what happened during and after treatments so we could figure out what to do, what to eat, what not to eat.”

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Research was important, but some support was especially practical, “She was very patient with me when I had no appetite and she tried so hard to find foods that would agree with me. Sometimes, I’d be craving soup or mac and cheese. Once Claudia got/made it, I’d take one bite, and not want any more. She was incredibly patient.”

Now many years past her diagnosis and treatment, Yolanda has faced new challenges as a survivor. Once an avid gym rat, radiation weakened the bones in her back and she’s had four compression fractures, each requiring surgery. As part of her fitness regime, she’s traded aggressive workouts for walks that help her maintain her 50-pound weight loss and feel better.

Nine years after her diagnosis, Yolanda believes her work as a volunteer is a chance to give back. When asked for key advice she shares with patients, her answer is honest, but encouraging. “Be patient during your treatment. You will not be able to do all the things you want to do. Your life changes forever. But you develop a new normal. Pancreatic cancer is not a death sentence.”

Cancer Hope Network has knowledgeable volunteers who stand ready to assist cancer patient and their caregivers in dealing with this horrible disease. It’s one stop shopping for individuals desperate for answers to their questions. “