|Fall 2009-Survivor Profile|
Sarah Thomas was a young, active woman, the wife of an active man and mother of two active boys in Oneonta, Alabama—until an abnormal Pap smear and biopsy revealed cervical cancer. Suddenly, she was relying on a Comprehensive Cancer Center gynecologic oncologist and a four-armed robot to get her moving again.
Mrs. Thomas was feeling fine when she had her annual exam in early 2006. Even the abnormal Pap smear results weren’t troubling; such results in the past had never come to anything. The biopsy findings, however, alarmed her: She had cervical cancer.
“It was surreal,” Mrs. Thomas says. “My gynecologist gave me a lot of information, and we talked about my options, and I had all of that information in my head. But until Dr. Huh reiterated all of it, none of it made sense. Once we went over it, I realized that it was more serious than I had thought.”
A Four-Armed Assistant
Consultations with Dr. Huh and the advanced technology behind the surgery reassured Mrs. Thomas; her husband, Jason; and their sons Alexander, then nine, and Tyler, then seven. Still, they held their collective breath until the surgery was over—with positive results. Mrs. Thomas was home the next day and back to her regular routine within two weeks, with scans showing that no further treatment was needed.
In December 2007, four spots appeared on one of Mrs. Thomas’s routine follow-up scans—three on her lungs and one on a lymph node. “That was when I got more involved with what the Comprehensive Cancer Center offers,” Mrs. Thomas says. After further scans and another biopsy, Dr. Huh recommended six rounds of chemotherapy.
“It was frustrating,” she says. “I had no symptoms prior to being diagnosed, but during treatment, I got sick. The one thing that was supposed to help me made me feel worse. That made it harder to have the treatment or agree that it was the best course for me.”
Three months later, the spots had continued to grow, and Dr. Huh brought Mrs. Thomas to radiation oncologist Jennifer De Los Santos, M.D., at The Kirklin Clinic at Acton Road. The two physicians recommended a course of radiation therapy and low-dose chemotherapy. So Monday through Friday for six weeks, Mrs. Thomas made the two-hour round trip to the clinic for her treatments.
At home, she says, her family was supportive and helpful—but she had to learn to accept help from her sons, husband, and mother-in-law. “I realized that I needed to rely on them a bit more,” she says. “I always did everything around the house. It was a learning experience for me to accept that they'd be O.K., that they wanted to help, and that it's good for them."
Walks and Workouts
Her workouts have never been an average day at the gym. At the time of Mrs. Thomas’s diagnosis, she was preparing for a high-intensity fitness challenge. More recently, she celebrated the completion of a round of treatments with a 20-mile overnight walk, one she has made for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for the past three years.
"I finished six weeks of radiation and chemo, trained for two weeks, and then went to Chicago to walk 20 miles,” Mrs. Thomas says. "I wasn't going to give up something I already had on my agenda. I didn't want to change it just because I have cancer.”
"You give up, and it's an excuse,” she adds. “It's nice to accept help when I'm not feeling well or treatment is rough. But I don't want cancer to control my normal life. It's about quality of life and getting back to what I feel is important. Really, I think it has changed my life for the better."