Battling cancer can be a stressful and scary experience. While the input of family, friends and physicians is important, stories and experiences shared by other cancer patients can provide comfort and hope. The following stories represent Moffitt patients of all cancer diagnoses, ages and ethnic background. Our hope is that their stories can help inspire patients and their families as they undergo treatment.
On November 30, 2009, I was first diagnosed with stage 1B2 Cervical Cancer, Adenocarcinoma. My fight against cervical cancer began with chemotherapy and aggressive radiation treatments. During this time, I also underwent a series of in vitro fertilization to cryopreserve or “freeze” my eggs in the hopes of one day using a surrogate to start a family. After a long fight, followed by two years of successful PET/CT Scans, my MRI showed no evidence of the disease.
Unfortunately, on September 25, 2012 (my 32nd birthday) I had a biopsy under anesthesia after having similar symptoms from my first diagnosis. Three very long days later, I was officially diagnosed with recurrent cervical cancer. Once my case was examined and reviewed, my cancer treatment team at Moffitt recommended a Pelvic Exenteration. The American Cancer Society defines a pelvic exenteration as, “a major surgery in which the uterus, cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes, vagina, bladder, urethra, and rectum are removed.” At 32 years old, I would have to endure a radical surgery that would forever change me physically and mentally. This choice was not made without countless hours of education, research, and the decision to empower myself to take control over every minute of my medical care moving forward. I received multiple opinions regarding my treatment plan and met with every single person on my surgical team, asking questions at every turn. I was not going to undergo such a radical and invasive surgery without knowing exactly what I was facing head on. My meetings with my Oncologists would often include a room full of family & friends all armed with notebooks filled with questions.
On November 2, 2012 I underwent the 12.5-hour surgery at Moffitt. I spent the next thirty days in the hospital battling several obstacles in my road to recovery. It has been long and extremely difficult year, but the fight is in me to get better and I could not do it without the support from my army of loved ones & my treatment team at Moffitt. Though I face new challenges every day, I continue to do my best to educate myself and other woman during their fight.
The Teal Recovery Project is a nonprofit organization, which was founded for me by nine close friends who wanted to do something special during such a difficult time in my life. I will continue to live the mission to help raise awareness for cervical cancer through empowering and educating other women affected by this disease. The teal ribbon serves as our anchor, which reminds us to “refuse to sink” and to always stay grounded when seas are the roughest. For more information or how to get involved, please visit www.thetealrecoveryproject.org.
I was originally diagnosed with stage 1B cervical cancer in July 2007 at age 43. I had a successful radical hysterectomy and my prognosis was excellent. All I had the first go around was surgery. No chemo and no radiation. I was shocked to learn five years later at age 48 that the cervical cancer had spread to my lungs. That's when I sought out Moffitt. Upon our first visit, my husband Cliff and I were filled with hope. Dr. Patricia Judson and her team were so positive and encouraging. I did all of my treatment, scans and clinic visits at Moffitt at International Plaza - great place!
Dr. Judson encouraged me to lead my "normal" life while undergoing chemotherapy - modified, of course, based on energy level, exposure to germs, etc. I found that doing routine things helped me feel "normal," or what I like to call a "new normal," and lifted my spirits. I was able to continue my roles as a wife, mother and volunteer. And I was able to stay physically active with my workouts, albeit greatly modified. Getting out and exercising was therapy.
I would tell other cancer patients to stay mentally strong and positive. It's as much a mental battle as a physical battle. I found Isaiah 26:3 helped me, "You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in You". My faith kept me strong and hopeful.
Jerry & Trudy
Jerry Mulvey and his wife Trudy have been married for nearly 49 years. One of the biggest challenges during their marriage came just three years ago, when Jerry was diagnosed with stage three multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. Jerry and Trudy decided to fight back and formed “Team Mulvey.” The two-member team promised to support each other through treatment and beyond.
Jerry went through chemotherapy and had a stem cell transplant at Moffitt Cancer Center. Eventually he started to feel better, he says because of the extraordinary support of Trudy, a positive attitude and a good sense of humor. Exercise was also a key part of Jerry’s recovery. Immediately after his transplant, Jerry began exercising again and just eleven months later he biked 180 miles to raise money for charity.
Two years later, he was at it again, this time biking 100 miles to benefit Moffitt’s “Cure on Wheels.” Trudy was involved too, as a ride support volunteer. About a year ago, Team Mulvey began volunteering at Moffitt. Now they share the support they had for each other, with other patients and families who are fighting their own cancer battles.
When Jesse Fritz was diagnosed with cancer, he was a 24 old young man with the freedom to do anything. After his diagnosis, he says his world turned upside down. Jesse says, no one his age thinks they can have cancer. Jesse initially waited to have a bump on his arm checked out because he did not have insurance. Once he did, he found out he had stage 4 rhabomyosarcoma. His treatment has involved several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, surgery, and he still needs a bone marrow transplant.
During his treatment, Jesse experienced neuropathy, a side effect from his chemo. Neuropathy causes a loss of feeling in the fingers and toes. Jesse deals poker for a living and says until he can go back to work, he will not consider his battle against cancer complete. Jesse says it's tough watching his friends play flag football and basketball knowing he can't join in.
Despite these setbacks, Jesse says, cancer is NOT a death sentence. Jesse believes cancer changes your life in some ways but is not the worst thing in the world. Jesse has these words of wisdom for fellow patients, “Never ask why me? There's no answer for that. It's better to ask why not me? I can give you an answer for that one, because you can beat it and progress from you.”
After an initial diagnosis of Melanoma and surgery I did one year of interferon (a form of chemotherapy used to treat skin cancers). Shortly after that, several doctors agreed that a suspicious spot on my pancreases needed to be addressed and so I had a distal pancreatectomy in July 2010. Thankfully, that spot was benign. Complications (fistula) required debridement surgery in November of 2010. A few months later a couple spots appeared on my lung and in August 2011 I had a lung wedge resection which confirmed metastasis. September 2011 was our first visit to Moffitt for discussion of future management. In February 2012, we returned with multiple spots on the lungs. That is when I started Yervoy. In April 2012, the treatment was stalled to preform radio static surgery for two new spots on my brain. The neurology department at Moffitt confirmed and monitored this procedure and it was incredibly successful. No signs of the tumors were found in subsequent MRIs. I resumed the Yervoy treatments and completed the protocol in 2012. The treatment proved unsuccessful but now I qualified for a new clinical trial for anti-PD1. It began immediately. I am now in my second year of that trial, the maintenance phase, and have remained stable for two years. Unfortunately, I had brain surgery at Moffitt with Dr. Etame in October 2013 for a new lesion on my brain. The surgery proved extremely successful. I recovered very quickly and have now resumed my clinical trial with much success. The two and a half hour trips to Moffitt from Vero Beach are worth every mile because of doctors like Dr. Etame and Dr. Gibney.
No one thought I’d still be here to share this story five years ago, or even two years ago. I’ve been through a couple unsuccessful treatments, but I consider them successful in the sense that they bought me more time. With each day there is new hope. The treatment I am on now is working and it wasn’t even available when I began my cancer journey. There are so many new discoveries out there. So never give up! Being such a great teaching hospital with such cutting edge discoveries and trials has been an incredible blessing in my journey.
After suffering five years of debilitating symptoms resulting in paralysis from a life-threatening benign tumor at the base of my brain, I learned about Moffitt Cancer Center. In the tumor’s critical stage, Dr. Frank Vrionis and his surgical team in Neuro-Oncology were able to successfully remove it in 2005. After only three months of recovery with therapy, I can now focus on living the good life at 77! Since surgery, I have enjoyed 8 years of traveling and doing all the things I’ve done before. My family and friends refer to our experience as “our family miracle at Moffitt.” I pray my story will inspire others to never give up hope and faith because help is available thanks to the very best care, technology and research found at Moffitt Cancer Center.
I was retired and were enjoying life in sunny Punta Gorda, Florida. Then in 2010 I was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. I never had any serious health issues, and thought I was pretty much 'bullet proof'. The best advice I got was to go to Moffitt for a second opinion. After the interview realized I would get the best and latest cutting edge care Moffitt. The doctors, chemo, radiation, and surgery were at one location. I would not have to travel from one end of town to the other for treatments or doctor visits. They even have a guest house available for out of town patients. The other positive experience I noted had to do with the staff at Moffitt. During my entire time at Moffitt I can't recall any technician, nurse, or doctor that acted like they were having a 'bad day'. Very commendable considering the stress in their jobs.
My hair never grew back after chemo. The result, I tell friends, is people no longer confuse me with Tom Selleck, and ask for autograph. (joke). My best advice for others is to have a positive attitude! From the start I told myself "I can beat this thing.” Don't be afraid to talk about it with friends and family. I had friends that had gone through cancer treatments relate their experience. Helped a lot to anticipate various stages of treatment. Since recovery, I have done the same for acquaintances with cancer. If you have a faith, use it. I received enormous amount of strength from my faith and church family.
On Dec. 8, 1998, I was working for a consulting firm, getting paid more than I was accustomed to and I was “on the bench.” In those days, before cell phones were widely used, that meant I was sitting at home, waiting for a phone call to tell me what my next assignment would be, and wondering how much longer I could get paid so much for doing nothing. I got two important phone calls that day. One was from my employer, about a meeting I was to attend the next day, I was getting laid-off. The other call was from my doctor. He didn’t have a nurse or receptionist call me. He did it himself. “Remember that extra blood test you had me include with your physical … The PSA? That is supposed to be under 4.0.” (At my age it really should have been under 2.0.) “Yours is 6.6. You need to see a urologist about prostate cancer.”
The reason why I requested testing for prostate cancer in my annual physical 16 years ago is because my father had prostate cancer. Although he lived many years with it, it was never fully eradicated and his death was related to it.
Although I had a false alarm from falsely elevated PSA test results after my surgery, I’ve never had to have any further treatment such as radiation or chemotherapy.
I hadn’t thought much about Moffitt Cancer Center before that day. But Moffitt has played a big part in my life since then. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer just before my 42nd birthday and came to Moffitt for a second opinion. I was impressed and decided to have my treatment at Moffitt – a prostatectomy.
Facing prostate cancer and unemployment in my early 40s led to a mid-life, with overtones of end-of-life crisis. That led to a determination that my next employment should be someplace where I could be proud of the end product; not just my contribution. Moffitt topped that list.