Stories of Survivorship

Allison: Bone Cancer Survivor

I cannot fathom the person I would be if I had not experienced cancer. Because I experienced cancer at such a young age it has shaped who I have become. I was diagnosed at the age of 13 with osteogenic sarcoma; a type of bone cancer. It taught me the immense power my actions have, not only as a cancer survivor, but as a person.


Scott: Brain Cancer Survivor


Scott DeFilio was living the good life in 2010. He was 38 years old, happily married with two young sons and another on the way, and on a well-earned path for partnership in the

CPA firm where he was employed. But in the fall, Scott began feeling tingling and numbing sensations on his right side.


Mary Ann: Brain Cancer Survivor

Mary Ann Gunderman

Mary Ann Gunderman, a healthy 73-year old grandmother, was vacationing at the Cape last July, and enjoying one of her favorite pastimes – playing in the ocean waves. She misjudged one and it hit her in the back of her head. That night she suffered terrible shooting pains in her face. Pain that was not relieved by taking Tylenol.


Jesseca: Breast Cancer


Jesseca has had many small non-cancerous lumps (adenomas) in her breasts, so she was used to going to Smilow Cancer Hospital to be monitored every six months with mammograms and ultrasound tests. When she felt a lump in her left breast in November 2013, she fully expected to be told she had another adenoma. But this time, the radiologist told her something different.


Marjorie: Breast and Cervical Cancer Survivor


Marjorie had survived cancer before. Back in 1998 when she lived in Flushing, New York, she was diagnosed with Stage 3B cervical cancer and was treated with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy followed by a hysterectomy.Last October, Marjorie decided to take the train to New York, followed by a subway ride to Queens, to visit a friend. The next morning, she awoke with a pain in her outer breast. She thought it was a strained muscle from going up and down the subway stairs.After two mammograms and two ultrasounds, she met Dr. Anees Chagpar, Director of the Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital. Dr. Chagpar told her that there were two masses in the outer side of her right breast.


Raffaella: Breast Cancer Survivor


Raffaella Zanuttini’s busy life as a Professor of Linguistics at Yale, as a wife, and as a mother of two boys, 12 and 15, does not leave her much spare time. So when her February mammogram showed more calcifications lined up in a suspicious pattern and the nurses at the Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital recommended she have a biopsy, she was not ready to act. After having the biopsy done, Rafaella was diagnosed withductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). She made an appointment with Dr. Anees Chagpar, Director of the Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital.


Jen: Breast Cancer Survivor

I can't remember life without cancer being a constant shadow lurking in the distance. I was diagnosed with my first cancer, Wilms' tumor, in 1973 at the age of 2. I had one kidney removed and received chemotherapy and radiation. Because of this, I was never afforded the misconception that "it won't happen to me."


Kelly: Breast Cancer Survivor

I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 11. The first question I asked after my biopsy was if I could go to a school dance that night. Following that dance, I began 7 months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Although the experience forced me to grow up quickly in many ways, having cancer at such a young age was more surreal than anything. After 18 years with no recurrence, I thought the worst was behind me and that I had paid my dues; cancer was “in my past.”


Robert: Esophageal Cancer Survivor

When I was diagnosed with stage III esophageal cancer my wife was 15 weeks pregnant. I had been having difficulty swallowing and noticed some back pain, but attributed it to acid reflux and stress. It wasn’t until I fainted at work and was rushed to the hospital that we discovered something more serious was wrong.


David: Genetic Testing

I never knew my Dad’s sister, Aunt Pearl, because she died of breast cancer at age 52 before I was even born. Many years later my father was diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer at age 79 and was treated successfully with radiation therapy. To be honest, it never occurred to me that the two cancers might be linked...


Karen: Genetic Testing

When I was pregnant with my second child I developed abdominal pain that everyone assumed was related to my pregnancy. But the pain persisted several months after I gave birth to my son and my doctor ordered a full work-up, during which I was eventually diagnosed with colon cancer.


Margaret: Genetic Testing

Both Margaret’s mother and father were diagnosed with breast cancer. For this reason, she knew there was a strong possibility that she herself may be genetically predisposed to the disease. Although it was suggested that she have genetic testing at the time of her parent’s diagnoses, it wasn’t until several years later that she felt ready to receive genetic testing and find out her own risk for developing the disease.


Sheila: Genetic Testing

Cancer has been a part of my family story for as long as I can remember. My sister Barbara was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was only 39 and I was 37. You didn’t hear about early-onset breast cancer in those days… we were shocked. A few years later I was diagnosed with breast cancer and Barbara was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.


Alberto: Head and Neck Cancer Survivor


Alberto Centenohad already been through a bout of stomach cancer in 2008. But in 2013, new symptoms brought him to his local ear, nose, and throat doctor, who scheduled an appointment for him with Dr. Benjamin Judson, Assistant Professor of Surgery (Otolaryngology)and head and neck surgeon at Yale Cancer Center. Alberto’s diagnosis: throat cancer.


Debbi: Head and Neck Cancer Survivor

I had no symptoms, no pain, and no weight loss. Sure, I was tired, but I thought it was from working all day. I was diagnosed with a parotid tumor, which is in your saliva gland and I was told that 99 percent of the time parotid tumors are benign. During surgery it was discovered that mine was a malignant tumor, which was later diagnosed as stage IV cancer.


Sharon: Head and Neck Cancer Survivor


Sharon’s difficulties breathing and swallowing brought her to see her ear, nose, and throat doctor in Waterbury. When an ultrasound found a cancerous growth on her voicebox (larynx), she was referred to Dr. Wendell Yarbrough, Chief of Otolaryngology at Yale-New Haven Hospital and Clinical Program Leader of the Head and Neck Program at Smilow Cancer Hospital.


Eric: Head and Neck Cancer Survivor


Eric Bowles was 16 when he noticed what he thought was a canker sore on the side of his tongue.  Over the next month the sore gradually grew, but only bothered him if directly touched.  During routine x-rays at the dentist’s office, Eric asked them to be careful since he had a spot on his tongue that was sensitive. The dentist took one look and called an oral surgeon who met with Eric the next day and performed a biopsy of the lesion.  Everyone was shocked when the diagnosis came back as squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue.  


Wendy: Head and Neck Cancer Survivor


When Wendy McCabe’s dentist recommended that she have a biopsy done on a growth spotted at the base of her tongue during a routine cleaning, she didn’t think anything of it. However, when the results came back as cancer, she was shocked. Her first reaction was to ask, “Am I going to die?” Her second reaction was to assemble her support network and take action.


Denise: Hematologic Cancer Survivor

Denise Iorio
Denise Iorio was faced with two treatment options when she was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), she could take medication to control symptoms, or undergo a stem cell transplant.  After taking the medication for a while, she decided it was the right time to try for a permanent cure, so in 2009, two years after her diagnosis, she chose to have a stem cell transplant. She didn’t know it at the time, but her decision started a journey across oceans and resulted in a lifetime bond.


Gene: Leukemia Survivor

I thought I had bronchitis but one night I couldn't sleep because my lungs felt like they were drowning. I went to the emergency room and later that night I was told I had leukemia. I knew it wasn't good. I didn't freak out because I was too sick to get crazy about it, but when I heard it was cancer I was scared.


Linda: Lung Cancer Survivor

Linda Yuhas
In May of 2007, I was diagnosed with lymphoma. Shortly after, while testing was being done to stage the lymphoma, two small tumors were discovered on my lungs. My first reaction was tears. It seemed as though with every passing day my results got worse and worse. Then my doctor recommended that I see Dr. Scott Gettinger, Assistant Professor of Medical Oncology at Yale School of Medicine and a member of the Yale Cancer Center Thoracic Oncology Program.


Maureen: Lung Cancer Survivor

Maureen-Survivor image
At the age of 55 Maureen was not ready to accept her diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer as the end. She knew there had to be options out there for her, and she sought the advice of a friend who gave her Dr. Scott Gettinger's name at Smilow Cancer Hospital. After hearing all her options, Maureen decided on an aggressive course of chemotherapy. When she could no longer tolerate the treatment regimen, she eventually entered into a clinical trial testing the efficacy of a drug known as anit-PD1 therapy, which for Maureen, was a miracle.


Victor: Lung Cancer Survivor

When I found out that I was sick I didn’t know a lot about cancer or treatment options. I went to see my doctor because I noticed I had been losing weight, and was told I may have emphysema.


Bonnie: Lymphoma Cancer Survivor

At the age of twenty-five, cancer wasn't even a thought in my mind. In February of 2000 I was in the hospital for an unrelated illness when a spot showed up on my chest x-ray. My physicians took a biopsy, which revealed that I had stage IB Hodgkin's Disease. It took a few days to overcome the shock of the news but then it hit me...


Bill Brown: Melanoma Survivor

Bill Brown full
Bill Brown went to his primary care doctor and a local hospital in 2011 because he had swollen glands in his armpit. At the time, he made no connection between the discomfort he was feeling and the stage I melanoma lesion that his dermatologist had diagnosed and excised ten years prior.


Ed: Osteosarcoma Survivor

When I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, I didn't even know what it was. I was 21, and it was my last semester of my senior year of college at the University of Connecticut and I had to leave school.


Jean: Pancreatic Cancer Survivor

Jean Meisenheimer is a determined, decisive 62- year-old-woman, a woman of action. Ten years ago, in May of 2005, she noticed a yellowing of her skin. This rang a bell with her since there is a history of pancreatic cancer in her family.


Mark: Pancreatic Cancer Survivor

Mark Tardie
Before being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 33 I thought I was in the best shape of my life. I had recently started working out, and it was during these workouts that I began to notice a pain in my abdomen. I went to see my family doctor, but after many visits and many tests, they could not diagnosis the source of the pain. To try to find a diagnosis, I was referred to Yale-New Haven Hospital for an endoscopic ultrasound.


David: Prostate Cancer Survivor

David Brown
It was during a routine screening that I was diagnosed with stage II prostate cancer. I was in my late 60s and felt fine, despite my diagnosis. Not having been sick since I was 9 years old, I was in denial at first and thought that if everyone just left me alone I could have at least another ten good years.


Fred: Prostate Cancer Survivor

My PSA had been high for awhile so my doctor recommended I see a urologist. A biopsy was performed and at the age of 54 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Without my routine physicals I probably wouldn’t be alive today. We were able to catch the cancer early, and that made all the difference.


Tom: Prostate Cancer Survivor

Tom Regan

When Tom Regan learned that he had prostate cancer, it brought back memories of his father, who 20 years before had lost his life to the disease. Tom assumed that he was destined for the same fate.


Luke: Retinoblastoma Cancer Survivor

Luke banner

When 14-month-old Luke McDermott was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, his doctor told Luke’s parents that he would try to save the baby’s life, eye and vision. “That’s the order,” he said. “If we have to, we will remove his eye to save his life.”


Pat: Thymoma Cancer Survivor

Pat Scalifani
After feeling poorly for several weeks during the spring of 2006, I went to see my doctor. She listened to my breathing and said, “Pat something does not sound right.” Over the next five months I had several tests, biopsies, and scans done at a healthcare facility in my area, and initially received a diagnosis of lymphoma. They then thought it might be a virus, and a few months later, testicular cancer. Finally, after further tissue study I received the correct diagnosis of stage IV thymoma. My first thought was, “What is this thing?”


Judy: Thyroid Cancer Survivor

Judy Reardon
Judy, a registered nurse at Yale-New Haven Hospital, wasn’t entirely shocked when she was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer in late October. Having worked at Yale since 1982 and as a nurse since 1976, she has cared for hundreds of cancer patients over the years; she understands first hand that cancer can happen to anyone.