Nancy Jean Petrarca, 50, medical technician


Nancy Jean Petrarca, a medical technician and real estate saleswoman, died of colon cancer Saturday at her Cockeysville home. She was 50.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Glen Burnie, she was a 1973 Glen Burnie High School graduate and cheerleading captain. She then completed three years of course work toward a science degree at Towson University.

She was a medical technician at the old South Baltimore General and Maryland General hospitals and Central Laboratories in Timonium. She was later a medical labs marketing representative.

"Everyone who came across Nancy stuck to her. She had a magnetic personality," said Dr. John E. Adams, a physician and friend who lives in Cockeysville. "People were attracted to her kindness. She would strike up friendships with workers in a grocery store and give them gifts on their birthdays."

Following a brief period in Hawaii, she moved to Las Vegas where she was self-employed as a real estate broker and developer.

In 1999 Ms. Petrarca was found to have colon cancer, which was treated initially in Las Vegas. After surgery for a tumor that had spread to lymph nodes, her Las Vegas physicians told her that she would be dead in less than five years, friends said.

"She refused to accept this prediction, and resolved to seek a cure for her disease," said Dr. Adams.

He said that for that reason, in 2001 she left her family in Las Vegas and moved to Baltimore to have access to the Johns Hopkins specialists in colon cancer. In her quest for a cure, she had five surgeries and several courses of chemotherapy and radiation, and also sought guidance from colon cancer specialists in California, New York, and Washington, D.C.

"Her doctors attributed her 6 1/2 -year survival to her positive attitude, stamina, joyous spirit and love of life," Dr. Adams said.

He said that the day Ms. Petrarca had the colonoscopy that established her diagnosis of colon cancer, she fell at home and sustained a severe head injury.

She was in a coma for two weeks and was not expected to survive. The accident delayed her cancer surgery and left her with a total loss of the senses of taste and smell. In spite of this disability, she continued to expand her cooking and entertaining skills.

"She subscribed to all the major cooking magazines," said Dr. Adams. "Nothing pleased her more than to cook a big meal and share a bottle of good wine with family and friends."

Ms. Petrarca enjoyed reading and dancing. She also attended arts performances, played cards and fly-fished in Colorado and Alaska.

"She relished the challenge and camaraderie of the game of craps and her vivacity energized each game that she joined," Dr. Adams said.

"But Nancy's passion was cancer survivorship," he said. "Her calming spirit and words of love and support helped many other people struggling for their lives."

In 2004, Ms. Petrarca was the featured speaker at a colon cancer symposium at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Her talk brought an ovation from patients and staff.

A memorial celebration of her life will be held at 2 p.m. Jan. 7 at Mays Chapel United Methodist Church, 11911 Jennifer Road, Timonium.

Survivors include a son, Justin Fenton of Las Vegas; a daughter, Demian Laudati of Eugene, Ore.; her father, Frederick Petrarca of Severna Park; a brother, Frederick Petrarca Jr. of Pasadena; three sisters, Barbara Hardesty of Boulder, Colo., Dale Hanlon of St. Michaels and Linda Schafer of Stevensville; and two grandchildren.

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