• Charlotte man has unique approach to fighting pancreatic cancer

    By: Paul Boyd

    Updated:

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - John Deleski, 48, is fighting stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

    "I'm trying to live my life every single day like I don't have cancer," Deleski said.

    His journey started just over a year ago when he began experiencing nonstop heartburn and constantly felt bloated for several days.

    Deleski's doctor ordered some bloodwork and sent him to get an ultrasound.

    "When they found the mass, I started asking questions," Deleski said. 

    More testing and a biopsy confirmed the worst-case scenario. Cancer was found in his pancreas and there was a spot on his liver.

    He never smoked and ran 3 to 4 miles per day.

    "You work so hard to be healthy and then you realize you're not," he said.

    As an athlete his entire life, the diagnosis hit him hard.

    "It hits you because you're a father. You're a husband," Deleski said. 

    He said that he only looked at the cancer survival charts one time then immediately focused on the fight and asked his doctor for a plan.

    Dr. Reza Nazemzadeh is his medical oncologist with the Levine Cancer Institute.

    "I told him on the first day. I said, ‘John, the homework, your goal is to not lose weight,’" Nazemzadeh said. "You have to be as fit and as strong as possible to fight this cancer. Already, I could see the wheels were turning in his head about how he wanted to attack this."

    Deleski stood 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 180 pounds when he started his pancreatic cancer treatment about a year ago.

    He still goes through chemotherapy every three weeks and takes chemo pills every other week.

    Despite the grueling regimen, Deleski has gained 22 pounds by eating the right foods and lifting weights regularly.

    "From the very beginning, he was an overachiever. He handled this tough chemotherapy about as well as anybody I've ever seen," Nazemzadeh said. "The treatment is working and that's part of the reason he's able to do what he does. It's quite amazing."

    "My wife says, I'm like a pregnant woman. I just crave different things after chemo," Deleski said.

    Nazemzadeh said Deleski is in the top 1 percent of patients in terms of his ability to handle chemotherapy.

    Preparation and routine have also been an important part of Deleski's success. He drinks a tremendous amount of water before and during his treatment days and approaches every session as competition.

    "Me being competitive, is what's helping me fight this cancer. Because I don't want to lose. Because this one if you lose, you lose," Deleski said."

    A positive attitude and outlook have also been essential in the fight. Deleski credits his wife, Jen, and children, Dylan and Chase, for their unwavering love and support every day.

    He also points to friends and the overall community for standing by his side.

    Deleski acknowledges he's a fighter but doesn't want to be called "special." He wants people to know he is just someone who spends every day living life to the fullest. He is also someone who will never quit fighting.

    "Never give up the fight. There's always hope -- always," he said.

    The fight to find a cure for pancreatic cancer ramps up with the PurpleStride Walk in uptown Charlotte on Saturday.

    You can learn more about the walk to end pancreatic cancer here.

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