Cancer Survivor Stories
Eula Marshall shares why she shouldn’t have skipped her screening
Throughout my life, I’ve had stomach distress. I started seeing a gastroenterologist in my 30s. A colonoscopy found that I had several polyps. My doctor recommended a colonoscopy every three years since I was at higher risk for colon cancer due to my family history. At each screening, more polyps were found and removed, but none were cancerous.
I kept up with the regular screenings through the years, but as I got older, I got busy. I was running a business. My husband was ill. I had grandchildren. I was well acquainted with the risks I faced, but I made a fatal mistake. I skipped my colonoscopy for six years and that delay resulted in the onset of cancer.
I was having pain in my left side, but didn’t think much about it until it kept increasing. Eventually, I passed blood and I knew I was in trouble. My doctor recommended gastroenterologist, Dr. Jamie Walters at UM St. Joseph. I set up an appointment with her right away. She put me at ease as soon as we met and arranged a colonoscopy. When the lab work confirmed that I had stage 2 colon cancer, she referred me to Dr. Howard Berg, chief of colorectal surgery at UM SJMC, who would perform my surgery.
My first visit with Dr. Berg was wonderful. He explained my diagnosis, what the surgery would entail and what I should expect. The surgery went exactly as he had predicted, and I’m doing well now.
I hosted our annual Thanksgiving dinner for my fiancée, Victor Frenkil, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren this year. I am so grateful to be here with them. I’m living proof that even at 79, a colonoscopy can save your life.
Mazie Greene Shares Her A"mazie"ing Story
Divine Healing Through Faith and Medicine
Mazie Greene’s faith in the power of God is so strong that she literally dozed off when UM St. Joseph Cancer Institute oncologist Rima Couzi, MD explained the options to treat her cancer. “My family was listening intently but I just knew that God had given Dr. Couzi the skills to treat me. It was out of my hands and in His.”
Mazie followed Dr. Couzi’s recommendation of chemotherapy for a six-month regimen. One year and three months following her diagnosis, Mazie has a spirit of gratitude. “It was so important to me to be treated in a faith-based hospital,” says Mazie. “At St. Joe’s the Spirit of nurturing and healing is everywhere. Of course I understand the power of science, but there is so much more that needs to be tended to when someone is sick.”
This exceptionally positive woman had been told of the often unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy but she insists she did not experience them. “Others have told me that after a chemo treatment, they have to go home and go to bed. I went shopping. I was so grateful to God that I felt good,” smiles Mazie.
Mazie expresses her wholehearted enthusiasm for The Geraldine G. Schultz Fund for Breast Cancer Survivors. “The ability to be positive and peaceful in any situation is a blessing. I have the ability to be positive because of the love and devotion I receive from family and friends. To me, the Schultz Fund is a blessing for women who have so much capacity for joy, peace and hope for a successful future,” Mazie concludes with calm conviction.
Breast Cancer Survivor, Donna Rae Smith, Shares Her Story of Discovery and Gratitude
In September 2015, I went to see my OB/GYN, Dr. Suzie Chung, for my annual checkup, and she found a tumor in my right breast. It was a sizeable lump that wasn't there the year before. My doctor immediately called Advanced Radiology and asked them to fit me in. The mammogram showed a mass that was very obvious. The radiologist was fabulous. He was very upfront but compassionate. I was absolutely shocked!
At the time, I was a very healthy 63-year-old. I'm a vegetarian, a personal trainer and a nurse and take care of my health. But I have to admit that I did not do breast self-exams monthly.
The No More Sleepless Nights program at University of Maryland St. Joseph's Breast Center is real. It truly is what it sounds like. The staff live for it. Dr. Schultz has based his whole philosophy and practice around the concept. It was 3 p.m. when I had my mammogram. I didn't feel alone. The sonographer was phenomenal. She held me, and I cried. The staff literally walked me across the hall to see Dr. Schultz. He did the biopsy right away and told me, "I have done so many of these in my career, I know what breast cancer looks like, and although we won't have the pathology results for a little while, this is breast cancer."
I was still completely in shock. Dr. Schultz and the staff said they'd all wait as long as needed until I could reach my husband so Dr. Schultz could talk to him in person. They sat me in the conference room, and the staff, the breast cancer nurse navigator, and Dr. Schultz's assistant, came in and out to check on me.
I finally needed to go out and get some fresh air, so I sat on the bench outside the front door by the garden. The staff could not have been more understanding.
The next day my husband and I came back to see Dr. Schultz who spent one and a half hours with us answering all our questions. I had two very fast growing tumors in the right breast, so a lumpectomy was out of the question. I wanted both breasts removed. I would have been too worried about a recurrence if I kept both breasts. Dr. Schultz was so phenomenal. He listened to my wishes. He was patient and wanted to be sure that I would have no regrets. I had a double mastectomy. Dr. Schultz also connected me with plastic surgeon who was part of the surgery.
Next I went through chemotherapy. I received six rounds of two different medications, going every three weeks to the infusion center. It's open, beautiful, has comfortable chairs, large windows – I wouldn't change anything about it. I got my wig at the Boutique at the Breast Center. The staff there were equally wonderful.
My medical oncologist Dr. Rima Couzi was also wonderful, patient, positive and smart. She will sit with her patients for an hour answering questions. She treats you as if you are her favorite sister.
The chemotherapy nurses were fantastic. They made every attempt to have the same nurse for me each visit, which I felt was unique. Rose, the nurse navigator, did Healing Touch for me. I suffered from extreme fatigue from the chemotherapy.
I had my breast reconstruction. I feel relieved and really glad it's over, though I still see my doctors every three and six months.
There was such tremendous support with the initial diagnosis and not having to wait due to the No More Sleepless Nights program, which is so phenomenal.
The Breast Center is extremely efficient at diagnosing breast cancer so that the diagnosis will cause the patient the least amount of anxiety as possible. The chemotherapy center staff, physicians, nurses and all the staff at the Breast Center are so caring, informative, compassionate and professional that I felt assured that I was in the best of hands.
Uninsured Mom Thankful for UM SJMC’s One Voice Program
Sandra Villa de Leon, program manager for Nueva Vida Baltimore, tells the story…
As Nueva Vida’s Baltimore program manager, I was very thankful to be able to help 33-year-old Karol Contreras, a young uninsured mother who found a lump in her breast and was told by a downtown health clinic that it was nothing to be worried about. I can’t imagine what Karol would have done if a friend hadn’t told her about Nueva Vida. I set up a doctor’s appointment for her. Ultimately, she was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer.
I’ve had numerous young breast cancer patients with this type of story who could not get mammograms because they were under age 40 and uninsured. Since Karol is a Maryland resident, I helped her apply to the Maryland Breast and Cervical Cancer Program for coverage, and then, thanks to UM SJMC’s Cancer Institute’s One Voice program, Karol received a mammogram and multidisciplinary care that encompassed chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy and breast reconstruction. She’s doing very well now, and her family is grateful. Through the efforts of UM SJMC Breast Center surgeon Dr. Ethan Rogers and Nueva Vida, Karol’s mom obtained a 3-month U.S. visa so she could offer love and support in person.
Nueva Vida and UM SJMC’s Cancer Institute have been working together since 2012 to provide breast cancer care to Latina women in need.
Nueva Vida is a non-profit organization that provides education, outreach and healthcare navigation services to Latino families. It was founded by Latina breast cancer survivors who specifically advocate for and facilitate access to state-of-the-art cancer care for Latina women.
A Survivor’s Journey of Health and Hope
UM SJMC Supply Chain Specialist – Gary Neal- shares his survivor story
One fateful afternoon when I took my lunch break in the hospital cafeteria, I had no clue that it was going to be a lifesaving meal. As I ate my roast beef sandwich, I began choking. It was my lucky lunch break because my gastroenterologist Amin Khan, MD,came walking by and noticed I was having difficulty swallowing.
I’d been under Dr. Khan’s care for years, in fact he did my first colonoscopy when I was 42, because I’m at high-risk for colon cancer. My mother had colon cancer. So, Dr. Khan said to me, ‘It’s time to come in for an upper endoscopy of your esophagus as well as a colonoscopy.’ He realized I was overdue for that colonoscopy. I was supposed to come in at age 47 and was already almost two years late.
The endoscopy revealed that I had severe acid reflux, but the colonoscopy was something else. When I woke up after the colonoscopy and saw Dr. Khan standing by my side, I thought, ‘Uh-oh, this is not good.’
The High-Risk Road of Missing Your Colonoscopy
My diagnosis was stage 1 cancer. I had a pancake polyp, which is the more difficult kind to detect. I needed a right hemicolectomy, which meant removing part of my colon and I also had vitamin infusions. Bottom line, when the doctor tells you to get a colonoscopy every five years because of your family history, you do that.
Fortunately, I’m right as rain now. This experience taught me to never take birthdays for granted. Until my cancer diagnosis, I was intensely focused on my career, but now I make sure to get home to my wife for dinner so we can spend more time together. These days, I’m taking more time to enjoy life. We love boating and fishing and do not hesitate to do it every chance we get.
I’m a living example of the excellence of the Cancer Institute. My care there was incredible. The staff from the Digestive Disease Center, the operating rooms, the infusion center- and more- are fantastic.
It usually takes seven to ten years for a normal polyp to turn into an adenoma – which is pre-cancerous – and then into cancer. If you have a history of polyps, we screen you every five years to stay ahead of this progression. If you have multiple adenomas, a polyp larger than 10 millimeters or are a smoker, we may advance to screening you every three years. It also depends if the polyp is flat or shaped like a mushroom (pedunculated). Flat polyps, like Gary’s, are more likely to become cancerous, and polyps on the right side are usually more aggressive.
You have to be proactive and keep up with your screenings. Many patients procrastinate or forget. Anyone with a first-degree relative who has had colon cancer before age 60 should begin getting screened at age 40. Speak to your primary care provider to help determine the best screening schedule for you. People of normal risk can start screening at age 50.