From Heartbreak to Hope: Sunny’s Lifesaving Cervical Cancer Treatment

Organization: Service: Story Topics:
Cancer, Women’s Health

Sunny Garcia knew something was wrong.

For several years Sunny and her husband tried to conceive a second child. As she began undergoing fertility treatment, Sunny expected hormone swings, but not bone-crushing fatigue and abnormal bleeding.

“Then my physician found an enormous tumor. I was in shock,” she says. The 32-year-old data manager from Lakewood had stage 3 cervical cancer.

Fortunately, Sunny’s doctor referred her to Michael Berman, M.D., gynecologic oncologist, MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute, Long Beach Memorial. At her first appointment, she remembers standing in the hallway with her mother, when a passing staff member noticed her distress.

“That was a defining moment for me. She touched my hand and told me that Dr. Berman was an angel and that I was in the right place for my care,” says Sunny. “For the first time, I felt hope.”

Simple Facts

Cancer of the cervix, which tends to occur in mid-life, is one of the most common and potentially deadly cancers found in women. Heavy periods, vaginal discharge and pelvic pain may be warning signs, but often there are no early symptoms.

Cervical cancer is caused by HPV, the human papilloma virus. Fortunately, cervical cancer has  its own screening tests – the Pap test and the HPV test – which find cancer early. Treatment is most effective when begun in the early stages of cervical cancer.. Since regular Pap testing began over half a century ago, survival rates of cervical cancer have soared.

In the United States, most women who develop cervical cancer have not been screened in at least 5 years. About half of them have never been screened in their lifetime. For cervical cancer prevention, the American Cancer Society recommends that cervical cancer screening begin at age 21, with women ages 30 to 65 being screened with both the Pap test and the HPV test annually
“Screening allows for early detection, which means more treatment options. For many women who have pre-cancerous conditions, we can stop cervical cancer even before it starts,” says Dr. Berman.

A Beacon of Light

As one of the nation’s most trusted gynecologic oncology care centers, MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute (TCI) at Long Beach Memorial provides women like Sunny a second chance at life. TCI provides comprehensive gynecologic cancer care for women of every age, because all women are at risk.

The serene and state-of-the-art outpatient Todd Cancer Pavilion brings together world-renowned gynecologic oncologists and cancer care specialists, connecting years of oncology experience to confront the many effects cancer has on the lives of patients. The entire second floor of the spacious three-story 64,000-square-foot building is devoted solely to women’s cancer care, offering a full complement of treatments for women’s well-being, in every stage of life.

Cancer treatment and recovery takes both a physical and emotional toll on patients. TCI offers an array of psychosocial resources to women and their families. From a nurse navigator and social worker helping with therapy logistics, to a mind-body coach and yoga classes, the continuum of care is located in one convenient location to meet the unique needs of each woman. 

“Our goal is to truly foster an environment of healing and empowerment,” says Dr. Berman. “Our Women Guiding Women: Cancer Support and Education is one of the first peer mentor programs in the nation specifically for women with gynecologic cancers, so they know they are not alone in their battle.”

Beyond the Moment

In Sunny’s case, a sizable tumor and fast-invading form of cervical cancer called for the most aggressive action. Dr. Berman performed a radical hysterectomy for stage 1 cervical cancer, a surgery to remove her uterus, along with pelvic lymph nodes. During the operation, the care team discovered that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, changing her diagnosis to stage 3.

After five days in the hospital, Sunny recuperated at home. Today, nearly seven years later, she lives cancer-free. Her brush with cancer inspired her to change her lifestyle completely. She started jogging, hiking and lifting weights.

“I lost 60 pounds. I have a whole new appreciation for life,” she says. “We are all vulnerable to cancer. For me, with the support of my family and my exceptional care, I have my life back.”

Featured physician:

Michael L. Berman, MD

Program Director, Gyn/Oncology, Graduate Medical Education
Specialties:
  • Gynecologic Oncology, Obstetrics & Gynecology