Two-Time Cancer Survivor's Advice: Hold on to Hope
Feb 23, 2017 Cedars-Sinai Staff
To treat her very rare cancer, Debra Kay Gurin took chemotherapy 20 hours at a time for two weeks every month until she logged 500 hours of chemo.
She did a second 500-hour regimen when her cancer returned about a year and a half later. Debra didn't like to slow down, so she'd slip her chemo pack into her tote bag and keep moving.
She couldn't stop living her life while she was fighting for her life. Life doesn't stop for cancer. It doesn't even slow down.
"It was famous—I schlepped this thing everywhere," she says of the tote hiding her chemo pack. "I'd clutch it under my arm and I would go where I needed to go. To the kids' baseball game. To school. Every blue moon, out to dinner. I would sit there and pretend everything was fine, but I would have chemo going into me."
She couldn't stop living her life while she was fighting for her life, she reasoned. Life doesn’t stop for cancer. It doesn't even slow down, and she did not want to miss meaningful moments with her sons, Sam and Ben, and her husband Phil.
Debra was diagnosed with pulmonary artery angiosarcoma at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute in 2014. By the time she was diagnosed, the cancer had spread to her lungs. She underwent an eight-hour surgery to remove and reconstruct the affected artery and remove a portion of her left lung. Then she completed her 500 hours of chemotherapy, an aggressive regimen for her unusual and aggressive cancer. She also received six weeks of radiation therapy.
"Nine months—and five wigs—later, I was cancer-free," she says.
She had been cancer-free for 17 months when her cancer returned. She completed another round of treatment—including another 500 hours of chemotherapy—and has now been cancer-free since July 2016.
Take care of yourself right now. Live in the moment. You have this day.
"My incredible team of doctors saved my life not once, but twice," she says. "They always treated me like I was a priority. Like family. I never felt sorry for myself or depressed while going through treatment because the nursing staff always made me feel special and safe."
Debra's advice for patients facing cancer:
- Have a plan for talking to your young children. When Debra was diagnosed, her children were 6 and 8. She wanted to prepare them and protect them. She told them about her chemotherapy over dinner and kept it light. "You won't believe what the doctor told me today," she said to them. "The medicine I have to take to get better is going to make me bald. I'm going to have less hair than anyone in our family!"
- Focus on what you can control. Debra says every cancer patient feels scared about their future at some point. "You can't dwell on what you can't control." She comes back to advice her husband Phil gave her when she was struggling with her fears: "No one knows their future." She reminds herself of this all the time and shares it with people she cares about when they have fears about their own health issues.
- Live in the moment you're experiencing now. "Look out for yourself. Listen to your body. Literally appreciate that you're here and you can spend time with your kids and your loved ones now."
- Look for hope. Debra took comfort in reading success stories from other cancer patients. She found a story about a woman whose cancer had returned seven times. "It came back seven times, but she's still here. I hope that mine never comes back seven times—but if it does, that's going to be me. I'm going to live through this. That little article gave me hope for weeks."
"Make today the best," she says. "Take care of yourself right now. Live in the moment. You have this day. If you're facing cancer, keep in mind new things are coming out every day."
Debra is a grateful patient and supporter of the Campaign for Cedars-Sinai. Learn more about the Campaign.
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