CEO of Greenville Memorial Hospital talks about living five years with pancreatic cancer

Published: Nov. 17, 2022 at 6:15 PM EST
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - Thursday is World Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day. One Greenville CEO explains how he has survived five years with the illness.

Jim Agnew has been the CEO of Greenville Memorial Hospital with Prisma Health for three years. He works long workdays, but loves what he does.

“When you enjoy what you do it’s hard to say it’s work,” Agnew said.

He understands his employees because he was a nurse for 35 years. But what some may not realize about their boss and leader is that he has been battling a serious illness for the last five years: pancreatic cancer.

“One of the first things a physician told me when I was diagnosed was to not google your disease, because when you do google pancreatic cancer most of the things that come up are not very positive,” Agnew said.

According to the American Cancer Society 11% of people with pancreatic cancer live past five years. Each year about 50,000 people die from pancreatic cancer. This illness is tough to battle because it’s often detected in later stages, which means survival rates are lower compared to many other cancers. Agnew has lived five years with pancreatic cancer. He says he was lucky he caught his cancer early. It happened when he started to notice joint pain.

“I went to a rheumatoid arthritis physician because I thought I had arthritis,” Agnew said. “He didn’t think that was it. He shared with me that sometimes there are tumors that can cause different types of symptoms.”

He was diagnosed with stage one cancer, which means his odds of survival were greater than if it was discovered in later stages. But his treatment has not been easy. He has continued chemotherapy over the last five years, had partial pancreatectomy and whipple surgery. Doctors removed part of his pancreas and other organs around his abdomen.

“When I eat I have to take certain pancreatic enzymes,” Agnew said. “I also have to watch to make sure I don’t become a diabetic because your pancreas regulates the insulin in your body.”

His work has helped distract him. He has received a lot of support from his co-workers.

“It’s important for me to go to work because it keeps my mind off of the cancer on a daily basis,” Agnew said.

There is a much bigger reason why he fights day in and day out. Agnew has two children. His son recently had a baby girl and his daughter is getting married in December.

“For me that was the most important thing, being there for my daughter’s wedding and to meet my granddaughter,” Agnew said.

For anyone battling cancer he has this advice.

“I say to anyone who is suffering from cancer, but particularly pancreatic cancer, to never give up hope,” Agnew said. “Don’t lose faith. You never know what that next day is going to bring.”

Agnew emphasizes that if someone notices something is wrong to get it checked out. The American Cancer Society reports the most common symptoms of pancreatic cancer is abdomen or back pain. But some could also experience jaundice, which is yellowing of the eyes and skin. Other symptoms include weight loss, vomiting or nausea. Make sure to reach out to a doctor if you are concerned.