None of it made sense to Gina Barilone. She spent her days working as an administrative coordinator for the Johns Hopkins Institution and many evenings basking in the glow of love with her children and closest friends.
On most weekends, Barilone could be found on a concert stage belting out hits from artists like Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. Barilone even performed some original tunes with her entertainment business, Mzz B Productions, LLC.
Mzz B provides live bands, photo booths, DJ/KJ, and live sound production for private and corporate clients in Maryland, D.C., Virginia and other areas.
With the pandemic shutting the world down in 2020, Barilone was just like everyone else — at home and with minimal physical contact with the world.
About three months into the pandemic, the golden-voiced Baltimore resident felt some pain in her stomach. As it continued, she concluded that the pains must be a gynecological issue, so she called her doctor.
“Several years ago, I had some fibroids removed, and doctors determined that it was a fibroid; however, they wanted to perform other tests and MRIs to be sure,” Barilone recalled. “In July, the pain had increased in my stomach and progressed to my lower back. I knew that it could not be fibroids causing this pain, so I thought maybe I pulled a back muscle.
“Suddenly, my symptoms worsened with intensified stomachaches, severe backaches, diarrhea, jaundice, loss of appetite and rapid weight loss,” she said. “I was finally scheduled for an X-ray and then finally a GI appointment in August.”
In September, Barilone underwent an intense routine of blood work, testing, prescription medication and CT scans.
“After consulting with my nurse practitioner, Jennifer, I knew I had to take this seriously,” she remembered. “During an ultrasound, doctors noticed a mass at the head of my pancreas. I was terrified.
“I didn’t know how to be brave,” she said. “I truly thought I was going to die. Jennifer did her best to comfort me and give me hope. Her optimism and positive spirit allowed me to breathe.
“Tests revealed my pancreatic duct was blocked, so I immediately underwent a procedure to have a stent placed to drain bile and to confirm the diagnosis: Stage II pancreatic cancer,” Barilone said. “My first oncologist believed I was too old to handle the strongest chemotherapy treatment, and my chances for long-term survival were minimal. I knew I deserved better.”
Her weight dropped from 157 to 134 pounds.
Today, Barilone is at a steady 119 pounds and her antigen 19 levels are well.
“Although I’ve developed neuropathy in my legs, feet and knees and some days severe fatigue, I’m still able to manage long walks,” Barilone said.
She recently completed a 5K run/walk and has returned to work.
Barilone also has returned to the recording studio at Stages Music Arts, working with singer and songwriter Richard Crafton.
“Starting this June, I’m laying the backing vocals on a second album with Cam Aliff, who is known as Tex Moonlight,” Barilone exclaimed.
But her fight is far from over. According to the National Cancer Institute, only 8.2 percent of pancreatic cancer patients survive for five years.
The pancreas is deep inside the body, and standard physical exams cannot detect early tumors. People usually have no symptoms until the cancer has already spread to other organs.
A diagnosis like this can drain the patient of most resources, so Barilone’s family has started a GoFundMe campaign to help offset some of the rising medical costs.
The brave hitmaker is also performing during the Mzz Bs Beatz and Eatz Benefit show at Stages Music Arts in Cockeysville, Maryland, on Saturday, June 5 at 5 p.m. Attendees must be at least 21. Tickets are $65, and $580 for a table of 8.
Tickets include a full course meal, live entertainment, white or rosé wine, raffle tickets, giveaways and live entertainment.
For more information about the fundraiser or to purchase tickets, go to www.mzzbncompany.com.
“The benefit was developed to unite family, friends and colleagues in one place at one time to unite to celebrate hope and endurance of life, through love, support, eats and music,” Barilone said. “I want to give back as well as I am receiving.”
Barilone also cautions women to not ignore any signs their bodies might signal.
“Take time out with your primary care physician and run tests,” she noted. “If they don’t work hard for you to find out what’s wrong with your body, then seek help from others. Our lives are too beautiful and precious. No health, no wealth.”
“Less than 20 percent to 30 percent, of those with pancreatic cancer, have a life expectancy of five years,” Barilone noted. “But I would like to— with God’s grace— push that envelope.”
To contribute to the Barilone family Go Fund Me, go to https://gofund.me/81acc4e2.