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“Here’s How I Knew I Had Cancer” – Survivors and Experts Share Unexpected Signs and Learnings

Four cancer survivors and their doctors reveal how overlooked symptoms led to serious cancer diagnoses.

In an impactful new series by health news publication The Healthy, cancer survivors and their care team at AdventHealth recount their journey from diagnosis to remission, highlighting the importance of early detection and whole-person approach to healing.

Overcoming Stomach Cancer: Robert's Triumph

Sharona Ross and Dana Manzi talking.
Sharona Ross, MD, specializes in robotic and single incision laparoscopic operations for conditions of the esophagus, stomach, small bowel, pancreas, gallbladder and liver.

“It all started in an unexpected way,” 60-year-old stomach cancer survivor Robert Carpenter told The Healthy. Severe stomach pain, vomiting, and rapid weight loss were initially misattributed to less severe conditions before he was diagnosed with aggressive stage 3 stomach cancer.

His treatment journey began with a robotic surgery performed by Sharona Ross, MD, a surgeon specializing in advanced robotic foregut and HPB surgery at AdventHealth Tampa, followed by chemotherapy and radiation.

Dr. Ross explains that risk factors for stomach cancer can include family history, genetic predispositions, lifestyle choices, insufficient fruits and vegetables and smoking.

Now two years cancer-free, Carpenter credits his positive attitude, his wife, and his two grandchildren for his recovery.

To those with health concerns that are being dismissed or minimized, “Trust your instincts and listen to your body,” Carpenter advises.

Surviving Endometrial Cancer: Sharyn's Journey

Jennifer Rubatt, MD
Jennifer Rubatt, MD, is a board-certified physician specializing in gynecological oncology.

“I am forever thankful I never skip those yearly health checkups,” Sharyn, who provided her first name, tells The Healthy, whose first symptoms of endometrial cancer were initially attributed to uterine fibroids, a common condition. Later, an annual gynecologic checkup revealed her uterus was enlarged, causing months of concern and ongoing symptoms that eventually led to a biopsy in June 2022 that revealed her cancer diagnosis.

In collaboration with Jennifer Rubatt, MD, gynecologic oncology medical director for AdventHealth’s Rocky Mountain Region, Sharyn chose a comprehensive treatment plan involving chemotherapy, radiation therapy and a total hysterectomy.

“I immediately knew I would be in good hands,” Sharyn says about Dr. Rubatt and her care team who tailored her treatment along the way based on her body’s response to various medications.

Dr. Rubatt notes that major risk factors for endometrial cancer include postmenopausal age, obesity, diabetes and the use of estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy. Survival rates, Dr. Rubatt says, are very high when diagnosed early.

Now approaching the two-year anniversary of her last treatment, Sharyn offers three lessons: keep up with regular checkups, pay attention to symptoms and lean on your support system.

Conquering Pancreatic Cancer: Bryan's Story of Resilience

Jump's diabetic alert dog was his sole companion during his chemotherapy sessions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jump's diabetic alert dog was his sole companion during his chemotherapy sessions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bryan Jump, a 28-year-old from the Denver metro area, told The Healthy he was initially misdiagnosed with ulcers and cysts before discovering his symptoms were actually caused by a rare form of pancreatic cancer.

After years of battling severe abdominal pain and persistent vomiting episodes, Jump was diagnosed with acinar cell carcinoma, which required an aggressive trio of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. Despite the challenges, including becoming diabetic due to his pancreas removal and undergoing much of his treatment in isolation during the pandemic, Jump emerged from his treatment cancer-free.

Nadine George Mikhaeel-Kamel, MD, Jump’s oncologist and medical director for AdventHealth’s Rocky Mountain Region, advises that those with genetic predispositions or any family history of pancreatic cancer should start preventive screenings at age 50 or earlier.

Jump’s advice for dealing with a difficult diagnosis: “Allow yourself to lean into the people who love you. Remember, you are not a burden – those who care for you are eager to offer strength when yours wanes.”

After three years of remission, Jump says recovery is not a linear process but has left him with a cherished reminder. “Cancer doesn’t let you easily forget that every day is a gift.”

Blooming After Breast Cancer: Simona’s Story

Wassim McHayleh, MD
Wassim Mchayleh, MD, serves as the Clinical Program Director for the Breast Cancer Program at AdventHealth Cancer Institute.

Simona Lazinsk, a breast cancer survivor from Central Florida, emphasized to The Healthy the importance of early detection, even after a delayed mammogram. Her journey began with a small lump, leading to a stage one, grade three diagnosis.

Seeking a second opinion, she found the AdventHealth Breast Multidisciplinary Clinic (MDC) led by oncologists Devina McCray, MD, and Wassim Mchayleh, MD. “These two physicians took the time to thoroughly explain the treatment process and the advantage to me as a patient of having all necessary doctors in one location through their multidisciplinary model to treat breast cancer,” Lazinsk said.

Dr. Mchayleh stresses the value of routine mammograms and debunks myths about breast cancer’s relation to genetics. “It’s important to say that we don’t want to wait for the symptoms,” Dr. Mchayleh says. “Breast cancer is better diagnosed with a mammogram before having any symptoms.”

Now five years cancer-free, Lazinsk says, “Life blooms, even after cancer – something hard to imagine in the thick of the battle, but profoundly true.”

These survivors’ stories highlight the power of the human spirit and the vital role of compassion and support from health care experts and loved ones. Their experiences serve as beacons of hope, emphasizing the impact of wholistic care in overcoming illness and recovery.

Discover AdventHealth’s nationwide network of cancer care here.
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