East Prairie woman part of cancer vaccine research - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

East Prairie woman part of cancer vaccine research

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by Stephanie Byars  bio - email

EAST PRAIRIE, MO (KFVS) - Pancreatic cancer is the fourth deadliest cancer, with a five-year survival rate in the single digits.  With statistics like that, a diagnosis can be terrifying.  However, Carlla Turnbow of East Prairie says breakthrough medicine and good old fashioned family support are keeping her strong after her diagnosis. 

"My cancer did not show up as a typical pancreatic cancer symptom. I never had any pain, no stomach ache" Turnbow said.  However on October 8th of 2009, the wife, mother and school teacher got the scary diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. 

"I had thought all my life if they ever give me a diagnosis of cancer I'd just go to pieces" Turnbow said.  

"When I found out I was scared. As I've put it to other people, you're not grown up until you lose your mother" said her daughter, Donna Turnbow-Smith.  But Turnbow-Smith wasn't going to let that happen.

Just as the East Prairie principal leads the school where her mother teaches the third grade, Turnbow-Smith began to study.

"Knowledge is power, so I knew the more I could find out about it the quicker we could help her and get where we need to be" Turnbow-Smith said.  After seeing doctors in Sikeston, Cape Girardeau, Ste. Genevieve and St. Louis, they found that place, all by the time Turnbow got her official diagnosis.

"She called and had everything set up and when St. Louis said it was cancer I was set up and ready to go" Turnbow said.  With both of her daughters and her husband, Turnbow went to Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, the leader in pancreatic cancer research.

There, one month after her diagnosis, Turnbow underwent something called a Whipple Procedure to remove the cancer.  Then she learned that her fight against cancer could affect the future of the disease.

Her weapon... a vaccine!  "They told me I was a good candidate for it, they were happy to get me" Turnbow said.  Turnbow became part of the 2nd round of clinical trials for a pancreatic cancer vaccine.  The vaccine teaches your body to recognize and fight the cancer.

"They laid it all out and they told her it would be painful so we discussed it and if nothing else what you're doing might help someone in the future that gets cancer" said Turnbow-Smith.  Now almost one year cancer free, she travels to Baltimore every 6 months to get the vaccine.

"2 vaccines in the arm, 2 vaccines in each leg... and it hurts like the dickens" Turnbow adds.

But her future looks good, she said, "they feel like I'm blessed and can be curable."

Turnbow says love from her family, friends, church, and community though it all keeps her strong.  "I just feel like there's a blanket of love around me" she adds.

Click here to learn more about the pancreatic cancer vaccine clinical trials.

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