Hall relieved after recent pancreatic cancer scare
D-backs president, CEO had previously undergone surgery for prostate cancer
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The medical trials and tribulations of Derrick Hall almost took a turn for the worse last month when the D-backs' president and chief executive officer underwent tests at the University of Washington in Seattle to determine whether he had pancreatic cancer.
The signs were all there.
Only a little more than two years ago, Hall had surgery for prostate cancer, and at the same time, his father, Larry, lost a three-year battle to pancreatic cancer, a disease that is fatal for almost 75 percent of patients within one year of diagnosis according to the American Cancer Society.
In addition, last year Hall had so much acute abdominal pain that doctors at a local Phoenix hospital advised him he had pancreatitis, another disease of the pancreas that can prove to be a precursor of cancer for survivors.
But after some very anxious moments, the news from the tests came back negative.
"It's a huge relief to know that I'm OK," Hall said in a recent exclusive interview, speaking publicly for the first time about his most recent ordeal. "I was a mess. I was waking up every morning scared, horrified, frightened, all the words that you could use to describe all those feelings. And that's coming off prostate cancer and a lot of cancer in my family. We'll check again in a couple of years, but I can breathe easy now for a couple of years. The anxiety, though, will come back. I go every four months for [prostate cancer] blood tests. There's a period of anxiousness and anxiety. It's something we're going to have to live with."
Hall has been very public about his ongoing bout with cancer. He sits on the advisory board of the National Pancreatic Cancer Foundation and is starting his own prostate cancer foundation, "which is almost ready to go," he said. The "Pro-State Foundation" website should be launched in the next couple of months.
This column is another vehicle for Hall to convey the message that people must get checked often, because the best chance at long-term survival is to catch any cancer early.
As a two-time colon cancer survivor myself almost five years out from the last surgery, this is what you have to live with: If you feel pain in your side or abdomen, you immediately begin to wonder if there's a recurrence.
"That's me every day," Hall said. "If I feel a pain in my stomach, I'm thinking pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer."
The disease is insidious, and in baseball here's the recent short list: John Cashman, the father of longtime Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, died of it in September 2012. He was 73. The younger Cashman is still pained when he talks about it.
Only months before that, former big league pitcher and then-Padres bullpen coach Darrel Akerfelds died about a year after discovering he had pancreatic cancer, which was inoperable. He was 50.
Hall was only 42 when he had surgery to remove his cancerous prostate on Nov. 8, 2011, in Los Angeles. Just as he was starting to recover from the ordeal, he was told that his father was placed in hospice care because pancreatic cancer had overwhelmed him. His dad, 68, passed away only a few days later, and Hall delivered the eulogy at the funeral service in Las Vegas.
This came directly after the news that Hall's prostate cancer had been far more invasive than originally expected. He then suffered a rare infection because of the biopsy of his lymph nodes, causing a setback in his recovery. After the surgery, he told friends in an email that the cancer had spread to more than 30 percent of his prostate. If it had gone much further and invaded his bones, there would have been nothing left for the doctors to do.
All this recent history was the backdrop last year, when the pain that developed in Hall's abdomen was so severe he had to go directly to the emergency room.
"They said, 'We think you have pancreatitis. Don't eat. Don't drink. Vegetable broth only.' I went through that for about a week and then I was fine," he recalled. "My father's doctor, who is here locally, was afraid that there was a link. He sent me up to Seattle for some special tests. It's an area of expertise for them, so I followed his advice."
As Hall was waiting in a hospital bed last month to be sedated for the test, the doctor there talked to him about his medical bio. He told her about the prostate cancer, that his dad died of pancreatic cancer, that his grandfather, grandmother and an uncle -- all on his father's side -- had also died of cancer.
The doctor became somber and told him it didn't look good.
"[She] was very fearful," Hall said. "She said, 'I'm going to tell you ahead of time that we're probably going to find something, but we're going to take care of it. You're not going to worry, we are.' I was horrified."
Hall's wife, Amy, was at his side and began to cry.
"So I literally went under thinking I was going to wake up to bad news," Hall said. "But everything came out clear. They did scans, endoscopes, checked every organ internally, including the pancreas. Everything, knock on wood, seems very clean. There was no sign of the pancreatitis, either. No, they didn't figure out why I got it. In fact, this doctor said afterwards they're hoping that it was a misdiagnosis. Maybe it was a stone that I passed, maybe a gall stone. Yeah, that's what they're hoping and so am I. Who knows?
"Still, to this day, I'm shocked and obviously very happy that there's nothing there, nothing to worry about at this point."
The next tests are in two years.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.