April National Cancer Control Month, May 10-16 Women’s Health Week

Stage 4 metastatic lung cancer survivor sings on stage for first time in a year after remarkable improvements and  reminds others to persevere, don’t delay care.

April 30, 2021 - About every two and a half minutes, someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with lung cancer, and 4 in 5 of those diagnosed will ultimately die from the disease. Yet, more Americans than ever are surviving lung cancer. While the disease remains the leading cause of cancer deaths among both women and men, over the past five years, the survival rate in Texas has increased by a dramatic 14.1 percent. April is National Cancer Control Month dedicated to raising awareness for cancer detection, prevention and treatment in the U.S.

Seventy-two-year-old retired schoolteacher Nancy Ebarb is one of those survivors who wants to tell her story to help remind others not to delay care and that “miracles are possible when you don’t give up and find a health care team that truly cares about you like I did,” she said. “My cancer journey started with a cough that some initially attributed to allergies. But it was cancer.” 

One year after being diagnosed with stage 4 (the most severe form) metastatic lung cancer, Ebarb finally did something she missed and loves. For the first time in a year, Nancy stood in the front row of the choir at First Baptist Church-Jasper, took a deep breath, and sang her heart out – first at Palm Sunday services March 28 and then during Easter services April 4. Thanks to oncologists in nearby Nacogdoches Medical Center, her tumor has shrunk from the size of an egg to the size of a walnut. “I went from fearing I may not be alive for much longer to having hope that I’m beating this,” Ebarb said. 

When she was first diagnosed, the cancer had already spread to her adrenal gland and her left rib. She and her husband, John, were shocked because she’d never smoked a day in her life. Living in the small town of Newton, Texas, the couple learned of the expertise of oncologists affiliated with Nacogdoches Medical Center and made the two-hour drive to meet them. Mathews George, M.D., a board certified oncologist with Nacogdoches Medical Partners, would be her physician.

Nancy Ebarb (pictured front row, fifth from left, standing) sings for the first time in a year at Palm Sunday/Easter services. 

“It was the best decision we made because Dr. George and his team knew exactly what I needed and began treatment immediately,” Ebarb said. “And when the medication was too expensive for me to afford, Dr. George’s staff went above and beyond to ensure I was able to get it no matter what. They did everything they could and showed they truly cared about me as a person,” she said.

Ebarb’s cancer therapy consisted of sophisticated testing and treatment offered at Nacogdoches Medical Center. She received a very specific oral targeted treatment, which helped avoid cytotoxic chemotherapy. This combination of targeted treatment and a bone-strengthening infusion therapy ultimately succeeded in shrinking her tumor and yielded an excellent response against the metastasized cancer in her rib and adrenal gland. 

Dr. George said Nancy Ebarb is a shining example of the perseverance that all patients, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, should follow. 

“Lung cancer survival rates in Texas are improving and it is in part because of patients like Nancy who are doing the right thing,” Dr. George said. “She listened to her body and even when others had written her cough off as allergies, she didn’t stop there until she was able to get appropriate scans and a biopsy that helped to accurately detect and diagnose her cancer,” Dr. George said. “And she adheres to her treatment even when it isn’t easy. Nancy doesn’t give up and she’s a partner with us in her care, which plays a major role in our success, together, in beating this cancer,” he said.

According to the American Lung Association, most lung cancer cases are diagnosed at later stages when the cancer has spread to other organs, treatment options are less likely to be curative, and survival is lower. Nationally, only 22.9 percent of cases are caught early when the five-year survival rate is much higher (59 percent). Unfortunately, most cases (47 percent) are not caught until a late stage when the survival rate is only 6 percent. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has also attributed to delays in diagnosis. Lung cancer screenings are critical for early detection and timely treatment, but the pandemic has made keeping up with routine care, including screenings, more difficult. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons found that deferred care in the spring of 2020 when the pandemic first surged had worsened outcomes for patients with lung cancer.

Dr. George said he wants to remind the community during Cancer Control Awareness Month and amid the COVID-19 pandemic: “Do not delay care. A simple screening could save your life.”

View a video recording of Nancy Ebard singing during Palm Sunday Service at First Baptist Church, Jasper, Texas, March 28, 2021 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-84NRUrvww.

Media Opportunity
To schedule an interview with Nancy Ebard and/or Dr. Mathews George, please call or text Natalie Gutierrez at 210-260-7250 (mobile)

American Lung Association, the American Journal of Managed Care®, study from the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, and National Foundation for Cancer Research

About Nacogdoches Medical Center
Nacogdoches Medical Center is a 161-bed acute care facility located at 4920 NE Stallings Drive in Nacogdoches, TX. The hospital serves as the anchor of NMC Health Network and has provided for the medical and health care needs of East Texans since 1975. Designed to improve access to healthcare services in Nacogdoches and Shelby counties and the surrounding communities, NMC specializes in emergency services, women’s health, cardiovascular medicine and surgery, cancer care, orthopedics, neurology and neurosurgery. Extensions of the network include NMC Imaging Services, the Ambulatory Surgery Center of Nacogdoches, NMC Wound Care Services, NMC Loma Laird Cancer Center and NMC Shelby Emergency Services. NMC is recognized by the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, the nation’s oldest and largest hospital accreditation agency. To learn more about the facilities that comprise NMC Health Network, please visit http://www.nacmedicalcenter.com.