By Dr. Halyna Derzhko
This article was kindly translated by a family member.
At the age of 72, I had been through some difficult times as a pediatrician living in a small town in Ukraine, but I had not expected to be diagnosed with cancer, specifically melanoma, at that stage in my life.
I loved my work and my young patients. After working for 47 years, I reluctantly retired. My salary was small and my retirement pay was even smaller, but I settled into what was to be a quiet life.
Unfortunately, I suffered a fall that caused a serious head injury and landed me in the hospital. This was followed by my cancer diagnosis resulting in several surgeries. Subsequently, I was fortunate enough to be treated with immunotherapy drugs that seemed to slow the progression of the cancer.
Then the war broke out. Continuing treatment was now becoming impossible, not only for me but for most cancer patients in my country, thus sealing their fate. Not only were homes being destroyed but hospitals and clinics were not spared in the ensuing rocket attacks. My son, who lives in Florida, immediately sent for me. Meanwhile, my sister-in-law contacted every organization and medical facility she could think of in an effort to continue my treatment, although neither I nor my son had the financial means to pay for it. But she was persistent, and I was hopeful.
I thank God that Moffitt Cancer Center agreed to accept me as a patient with the assistance of the wonderful Gina El Mouallem Mhawej, an international patient coordinator with Moffitt's International Referral Services Department. This team eases the transition to Moffitt, paying extra attention to personal, cultural and travel-related needs. From the moment I stepped onto the McKinley campus, the care and attention I received were remarkable and comprehensive.
I am especially grateful to Dr. Nikhil Khushalani, Julie Twining, Digy Paul and all of the staff in the Cutaneous Oncology Program at McKinley for their kindness and goodwill. I am currently receiving immunotherapy treatment and appear to be tolerating it well. I am hoping for a positive outcome and will be forever grateful to Moffitt. I am also humbled that I was given this chance to fight for my life when so many in my native country will not have the same opportunity. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you all. May God bless all of you and your good work.
Coming to a different country with a cancer diagnosis can be a difficult step to take. Moffitt's International Referral Services is available to ease the transition by assisting you and your family with an array of resources. Email: InternationalReferrals@Moffitt.org.