Camp a respite from Akerfelds' cancer fight

Camp a respite from Akerfelds' cancer fight

Camp a respite from Akerfelds' cancer fight
PEORIA, Ariz. -- There's nothing like the first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers, Darrel Akerfelds found himself saying Monday.

"To go out and see guys throwing off the mound and hear the gloves popping again ... it's a special feeling," said Akerfelds, the Padres' bullpen coach.

What might seem like tedious drills -- a group of pitchers fielding bunts, another group throwing off the mound for the first time -- represented something of a personal (and professional) nirvana for Akerfelds, who is battling pancreatic cancer.

"For baseball people ... this is a great time of the year," Padres manager Bud Black said. "And I think that for Ack, it is great therapy for him to be in Arizona with the team doing his work."

After a morning on the field Monday, Akerfelds spent his afternoon flying from Phoenix back to San Diego, where he was to have afternoon blood work that will precede his sixth round of chemotherapy Tuesday at Scripps Clinic in La Jolla.

Akerfelds was diagnosed with cancer in December and has been receiving chemotherapy treatments since. The hope is that an upcoming CT scan will reveal that the tumor in his pancreas has shrunk to the point where he can have surgery to remove it.

If not, the chemotherapy treatments continue.

"Getting to the surgery is the best thing anytime," Akerfelds said. "If we can do it after the sixth one [round of chemotherapy], I would be a lot stronger for the surgery than if I did it after nine or 12.

"The sooner it can shrink away and I can have the surgery, the stronger I can be for the surgery."

The surgery -- which is called the Whipple operation -- greatly enhances the survivability rates of pancreatic cancer patients.

Akerfelds, who Monday morning in a team meeting updated the players on his cancer, will miss Tuesday's workout and could miss other days this spring because of treatment. He has been given clearance by Black to take as much time as he needs.

"Our only thought from a baseball side, from an organization, is that we're going to do everything we can for Ack to make sure physically that he's doing what he needs to do," Black said.

"Me personally ... I'm going to make sure he's not overextending himself. His health is the No. 1 priority."

A month before Akerfelds was diagnosed with cancer, he had surgery to remove a disk in his lower back. He was put on pain medication, which is typical with such surgeries. Less than three weeks later, he went off the pain medication.

Only the pain in Akerfelds' back and his stomach -- he thought it was a side effect of the medication he was taking -- continued to bother him to no end.

"I tried to fight through it," Akerfelds said.

Then, during a subsequent and unrelated trip to the dermatologist, Akerfelds was told he had jaundice, or yellowing of the skin.

"I went into the bathroom and the white of my eyes were almost orange," Akerfelds said. "He said I should get a blood test. I went to see my family doctor and after he got the results, he told me I should get to the emergency room."

Shortly thereafter, Akerfelds was referred to a gastrointestinal doctor, who eventually gave the diagnosis.

"Week to week, I don't know what's going to happen, prognosis-wise. It depends on if they can get it to shrink away from the vein," Akerfelds said. "In my mind ... it has shrunk."

The rounds of chemotherapy have done wonders for the pain Akerfelds had been feeling in his back and stomach. He's now pain-free and, to this point, hasn't been affected at all by the typical side effects that go with chemotherapy.

"I've been very fortunate in my chemo treatments that I have had no nauseousness, no tiredness. They told me at the start that everyone is different. I've had really minimal side effects from it," he said.

"The physical well-being of my body ... it's in good shape."

Which is why Akerfelds should be able to go through the normal rigors that are a part of Spring Training. He's thankful for that, and for the support he's received from members of the Padres organization.

"Ownership, to the front office, to our clubhouse staff, our strength training staff, our athletic training staff, our coaches and obviously Buddy ... everyone," Akerfelds said. "It's been overwhelming the support they've given me."

Many of the Padres players only found out recently what Akerfelds is going through.

"You don't really expect that to happen, so it's a terrible surprise," Padres catcher Nick Hundley said. "Your heart goes out to him. But you've got to rally around him ... you know how good of a guy he is and how much care he puts into his work.

"He's like family for us. We'll rally around him, support him and give him anything he needs."

For now, that's to have the size of his tumor decrease enough so that he can have the surgery he needs.

In the meantime, though, Akerfelds said that he'll dutifully go about his job of preparing the Padres for Opening Day. But this isn't an escape from reality, his reality. It's his job, one that he takes seriously.

"I think it's just the excitement of the season starting again that creates that adrenaline," he said. "It pushes your buttons and helps you feel better."

Corey Brock is a reporter for Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.