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Friends rally around cancer patient

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO Colorado
Shane Macomber/Vail DailyIn the first two weeks of knowing he had lymphoma cancer local Art Ballew had received a $100,000 medical bill. Dispite the massive medical bills that contunue to come in and battle against cancer Ballew contunues to stay positive.
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EAGLE COUNTY ” After a long bike ride on a rainy day, Art Ballew thought he’d caught a cold he couldn’t shake. It turned out to be cancer.

Ballew, 29, felt fine last summer. By mid-October, he was in intensive care at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a fast-moving type of cancer that starts in the lymph glands. His treatment will last until spring of this year, and Ballew’s doctors are telling him he has an excellent chance of recovery.

But this winter has been tough, and may get tougher. That’s where a group of very good friends come in.

Unable to work since October, and without family to rely on, Ballew’s friends are helping as much as they’re able. He’s staying with friends Jeff and Tracy Sample in Edwards, close to his doctors and nurses at the Shaw Regional Cancer Center.

Jey Henk, Ballew’s friend former boss at the Get Hi Gallery in Eagle-Vail, has been a rock, too.

After that rain-soaked bike ride in late August, Ballew just kept feeling worse over the next several weeks. Thinking the cold had turned into pneumonia, or that he might have a collapsed lung, Ballew went to Doctors on Call in Avon in October.

The doctors in Avon “kind of freaked out,” Ballew said, and sent him that day ” with Henk at the wheel ” to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs. Doctors there didn’t take long to put Ballew on a helicopter headed for Grand Junction, where he spent the next two weeks.

“I don’t remember much from that first five days,” Ballew said.

Henk does remember, and said Ballew was in pretty bad shape.

When it became obvious Ballew wasn’t going to be working for a while, the Samples took him into their home.

Tracy Sample shared a place with Ballew for a while a couple of years ago. Taking him in for a few months isn’t a big deal, she said.

“We’re just excited we were in a position to take him in,” Sample said. “We’re actually moving to a bigger place in a few weeks, and he’s going with us.”

This new roommate isn’t a problem, she said, mainly because Ballew sleeps most of the time.

“There’s no real added expense for us, because he barely eats,” she said.

When Ballew does want something, he needs it quickly. He also finds himself craving different meals at odd times. “Sometimes I’ll want a chicken sandwich at 9 a.m.,” he said. “That’s just the way it works.”

Sample said taking care of Ballew is “just like taking care of a family member. “

“You ask how he’s feeling today and get him what he needs,” she said.

How he’s feeling is a day-to-day proposition.

“It can be completely opposite between going to bed and waking up,” Ballew said.

So mostly he sleeps and watches TV. But, Tracy Sample said, there’s a dog he can walk, and she and her husband try to make sure their friend doesn’t sleep too much, and eats at least something most days to keep his weight up.

With Ballew’s living arrangements secured, Henk and other friends started helping him dig out from under a growing pile of bills.

Ballew has lived in the valley since 2002, but, like other locals, he’s gotten by on a series of part-time jobs, none of which came with insurance benefits. He was weeks away from finally landing a full-time job with benefits when he was diagnosed with cancer.

Cancer treatment is expensive for those who have insurance. For those who don’t, the numbers quickly turn mind-boggling. The bill for Ballew’s two-week hospital stay in Grand Junction was more than $100,000. More bills, big ones, come in all the time.

That’s where the Vail Valley Charitable Fund comes in. That local charity helps locals facing gigantic medical bills or other emergencies, most often by holding fundraising events.

Henk knew about the charitable fund, and got in touch with director Karen Simon. That started the countdown to a Friday party at 8150 in Ballew’s honor. Support is already rolling in.

“Little Hercules was already booked into 8150 Friday, and they donated their time,” Henk said. “Every place we go, every business, people are opening their hearts. Everywhere, somebody’s been touched by something like this.”

“I found out how good my friends really are when I went into the hospital,” Ballew said. “I can’t thank everybody enough for supporting me.”

But this is what friends do, Sample said.

“People move here from everywhere, and their families aren’t here,” she said. “I just hope if anything like this ever happens to me, my friends would help.”

After Friday’s benefit, Henk has volunteered to help Ballew knock down the piles of paperwork needed to get him more financial help with his medical bills.

“There’s money available for a lot of this,” Henk said. “But it all comes from different places. The ambulance fund won’t pay the anesthesiologist. And the fund for that won’t pay the surgeon.

“This is just the first climb,” Henk added. “It’s going to be a long one, but we’re going to get to the top.”

Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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