Walking the Walk

Mary Beth Ballard (left) with her mother, Mary, at a charity walk.

The odds should have been in Mary Beth Ballard’s favor.

After all, bladder cancer is three times as likely to occur in men, and the average age at the time of diagnosis is 73. And yet there she was in February 2014—a woman in her late 20s with no family history of cancer—getting the unthinkable news.

“When it was confirmed as bladder cancer, the doctor was as shocked as I was,” said Ballard, a marketing manager at Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. “I didn’t fit the profile at all.”

Ballard first knew something was wrong a few months earlier when she noticed blood in her urine, but wasn’t in pain so ignored the symptoms. At worst she thought it was a urinary tract infection.

When the symptoms did not go away, Ballard scheduled an appointment with a doctor, who detected tumors in her bladder. Sam Chang, MD’92, the Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor of Urologic Surgery at Vanderbilt, oversaw the removal of the tumors and Ballard’s six-month regimen of immunotherapy.

This past October, Ballard was deemed cancer-free. Now, she serves as a member of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center Young Ambassadors, a group of young professionals with a shared interest in fighting cancer. She also is actively involved in the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network. She recently organized the 2014 Walk for Bladder Cancer in Lexington, Kentucky.

“There has been a lot of good that’s come from this,” Ballard said. “It has helped me take a step back and appreciate the moment more.”