Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

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Life and love after cancer

A collection of stories of survivorship and hope

Iva, Joe and Lucianna

Five years after VCU Massey Cancer Center helped her defeat cancer, Iva Petrosino is embracing a second chance at life. She found love with Joe and married him, and they are now discovering just how sweet life can be with their new daughter Lucianna. If you are a cancer survivor—and that includes every cancer patient from the moment of diagnosis—we want to know how you are loving life after cancer. Please share your story with us.


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I was diagnosed with non-invasive bladder cancer at the age of 30. Prior to being diagnosed, I had never heard of this type of cancer. This journey has been very rocky and I’m truly thankful that my gynecologist followed up and referred me to the urologist. I decided early that I was going to fight. I am a SURVIVOR! My strong faith in God, a loving and supportive husband, and family and friends all keep me going

I continue to stay abreast of bladder cancer via BCAN in addition to being an organizer for the annual Walk for Bladder Cancer. The advice I would give women about bladder cancer is to not ignore any aches, pains, or feelings that something is not right within your body. Be attentive and aggressive with your medical care and know that you do not have to face this journey alone. My goal is to increase awareness about bladder cancer in my community. I got involved and became an advocate for the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network (BCAN), the only national organization devoted to advancing bladder cancer research, increasing public awareness, and providing support to those affected by this type of cancer. I am also a walk organizer for the annual Walk for Bladder Cancer held in May, featured in the Women & Bladder Cancer series by BCAN, participated in the Grassroots Advocacy on Capital Hill, and I just completed training for the Speaker's Bureau with BCAN. My annual check-up is December 2014, which will be a milestone for me...5 years cancer free!!

-Monica Austin-Cox

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Three years ago as my sons neared college graduation, I looked for an interesting diversion for the empty nest years – a job, perhaps, a ministry, or maybe a volunteer project. Instead, triple negative breast cancer found me. But it took me on a journey from diagnosis through treatment, and into a place of personal growth and new perspectives.

Along the way, I kept a journal that recorded my life lessons, blessings and challenges in facing cancer. That journal was eventually published as the book, Come Monday: My Journey on the Pink Ribbon Road, where I share the emotional peaks and valleys I encountered on the road to healing from surgeries and chemotherapy at VCU Massey Cancer Center. I like to call my journey the “Pink Ribbon Express,” and it was sometimes funny, sometimes frustrating, but often brought forth opportunities for great lessons in love, faith and moving forward in surprising ways.

I am now celebrating three years of survivorship in Richmond with my husband, Ward, and am loving having our two sons live close by. As a survivor, I enjoy speaking to women’s groups and providing encouragement, like so many did for me along my cancer journey. In my spare time I like to quilt, craft, shop and travel, and I feel blessed with each new day.

-Carolyn Mustian

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In 2003, I was diagnosed with stage III oral cancer that had metastasized to a lymph node. After considering several opinions, I chose to be treated by Dr. Laurence DiNardo, the director of VCU Massey Cancer Center’s Head and Neck Cancer Clinic. Dr. DiNardo offered me the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial that allowed me to receive high doses of radiation directly to the tumor but spared the healthy surrounding tissue. The radiation treatment, combined with chemotherapy, was successful and my cancer was wiped out.

After surviving cancer, I realized how precious life is—and I made the decision to get back into shape. It may sound trite, but the smell of flowers, the sunrise, it all takes on a new dimension after cancer, and I decided that I never want to take it all for granted.

I have always had a lifetime love affair with hiking and camping in the backcountry, so I set out to fulfill dreams of seeing the pyramids in Egypt, spending time in Greece and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. My eight-day climb up the 19,340-foot high mountain brought me to the summit just in time to ring in the New Year—five years after surviving cancer.

That climb was a wonderful gift. Facing the reality of cancer and treatment was hard, but I made it to the other side. Now, several years after that climb, I’m helping others to follow their dreams – whether its exploring Africa through a tented safari camp I managed near Serengeti National Park, arranging trips to Kilimanjaro with a small travel business or enjoying the wonders of the White Mountains of New Hampshire where I currently live. With the mountains and wildlife in my backyard, I have a daily reminder of the wonders of life to appreciate.

-Bob Holdsworth

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I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996, and although I live in South Hill, Virginia, I decided to go to VCU Massey Cancer Center for treatment. It was worth the three-hour drive to know I was getting the best possible care.

Thanks to the care I received at Massey, I am grateful for each new day. My husband James and I live on the Hall farm. This farm has been in the family for more than 100 years. We enjoy a wonderful life in the country within a close-knit community and our family and friends nearby.

I was very excited to learn that VCU Massey was partnering with VCU Community Memorial Hospital to provide cancer treatment right here in South Hill, without having to drive 70 miles. I really think this is the best thing that has happened to South Hill, Mecklenburg County and VCU CMH since sliced bread!

-Betty Hall

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Life was wonderful and uninterrupted until my sudden diagnosis in May 2011 with AML (acute myelogenous leukemia). My whole world went upside down, with multiple rounds of chemotherapy, until a bone marrow match was found in November 2011. With the expertise of outstanding doctors, nurses and caregivers at VCU Massey Cancer Center by my side, I have become a survivor from this menacing disease.

Fifteen months later, I look at life in a new and fresh way, enjoying and appreciating all these newly gifted moments with a lot more gratitude. This would not have been possible but for the constant care I got from my hubby of 40+ years and the support of our family. I have always enjoyed activities with the family for staying fit. It is a new experience now, and in many ways, it's like starting anew. I am slowly getting back to playing tennis, doing yoga and Pilates, taking long walks and reading anything I can get my hands on. I am also more appreciative of all my blessings, chasing my two grandchildren around the house and experiencing things through their innocent and imaginative eyes. It's a wonderful and amazing feeling.

I am still adjusting to my new normal and realize it all depends on what I make of it, always keeping a positive attitude. I have contacted my gracious bone marrow donor recently and I cannot forget this life-giving gesture. I have not returned to work yet, as I am still adjusting to life after transplant. I have learned to be patient, enjoy each day to the fullest and be thankful for all the small and big blessings.

-Muthamma (Daisy) Achia

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When I went for my mammogram in 2011, I had a feeling that something wasn’t right. Unfortunately, my fears were confirmed when I was diagnosed with early stage II breast cancer. I went for a second opinion at VCU Massey Cancer Center, and that is where my cancer journey began.

I had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, all while trying to juggle two jobs. I would literally go to my radiation appointments in the morning and show up for work in the afternoon. But soon this proved to be too much, and I was laid off at both of my jobs.

With strong faith, I pushed forward with my care. I enrolled in a clinical trial studying how chemotherapy symptoms are related to body and brain chemistry in order to learn more about my symptoms and also show others that there is hope for a cure. It was the support of my family and everyone on my medical and clinical trial teams that helped me get through the difficult times.

Now I’m cancer free, and my life is a blessing. I love my new job as a laboratory assistant at Health Diagnostic Laboratory, which has supported me ever since my first day there. Also, I am now blessed with two beautiful grandchildren and am so thankful for the opportunity to see them grow.

-Bev Tompkins

Today is February 14, 2013 and two years ago I got the news that I was in remission from ovarian cancer. I was diagnosed on August 3, 2010 when I was 32 years old. The last two and a half years have been a pretty incredible journey and I learned a lot about myself in that time. I've also found out that the things in life that may seem like big ordeals really aren't and your family, friends and time mean more than anything in the world.

-Pam Rigsby

I celebrated 5 years yesterday!!! Stage 3 ovarian cancer survivor! Blessed and thankful for a second chance at this village we call life!!

-Barbara Miller

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One year. One glorious, horrible, awe-inspiring, depressive, eye-opening, despairing, humbling, love-filled year since the words “you have cancer.” Like many before me, this first year has been a blur of surgery (mastectomy with rebuild), chemotherapy, radiation and hospital tile! Through all of this my family, the staff at Massey, my “sisters” in radiation, and my workplace have been my glue that literally has kept me from becoming unhinged.

I have learned important life lessons including how to let go, to laugh often and how important hope is. I know my two feet hitting the floor in the morning is a miracle and how vital it is to “just move” even when you don’t feel like it. I am so excited for Spring, the future, watching my boys grow, loving my husband and daily miracles. As of this moment, I am cancer free. I’ll take it. My wish today is to provide hope to all others traveling this road. You are not alone and the incredible group at Massey is working every minute to make your outcome the best it can be.

-Susan McDonnell

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I’m 17 years old and a two-time cancer survivor.

In the 5th grade, I was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma in my right hip and spine. After I had surgery and a year of chemo at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, followed by five weeks of radiation involving 3-hour roundtrip daily drives from my home in Farmville to VCU Massey Cancer Center, my cancer was in remission.

But four years later, in the 9th grade, cancer was found in my left hip. I had a hip replacement and another year of chemo.

Now I’m cancer free!

I live on a beef farm with my parents and younger brother and I stay busy with school, attending the Governors School in Keysville in the morning and Cumberland High School in Farmville in the afternoon.

I had hopes of going to college on a basketball scholarship, but my hip replacement dashed that dream. I didn’t let that get me down, though. I found a new sport in horseback riding, which, in turn, inspired a new dream in veterinary medicine. Today, I travel around the East Coast competing in Hunter Under Saddle quarter horse shows, and I’m proud to say that I’m a top 15 World Champion! After I graduate next year, I plan to major in veterinary sports medicine at Virginia Tech and study alternative therapies for animals.

I love hanging out with my friends, and I’m excited to go to my first prom in April!

-Mary Huddleston

I was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago. Living after cancer is one of the best feelings in the world. I take one day at a time and keep on going. Massey Cancer Center is the best. I feel blessed I'm able to work.

-Barbara Smith

I'm living with cancer, which isn't easy, to say the least. But the point is that I'm LIVING. I'm grateful to see the sunset of each new day, and I'm hopeful for the possibilities that each new day brings. I'm loving every day that I'm alive.


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Michelle Goodwin is one of those rare young women that have been diagnosed with and survived cancer, not once but two times, and she is only 33 years old. Cases in young adult cancer are becoming increasingly less rare and Michelle found that it was something that truly transformed her.

-Michelle R. Goodwin

My Grandma is currently going through cancer treatment. Therefore my entire family has cancer. We went in thinking she just had a blockage in her bowel. Turns out it was a tumor. Actually there were multiple tumors where the doctor said there were too many to count. She ended up on 80% life support for almost a month after the surgery as her body healed.

When she woke up and saw the entire family pulling together to care for her, she told her best friend with tears in her eyes "I can't believe my whole family is here and they all pulled together during this time. I have the best family." Now we are 6mths out and going through chemo. Our numbers are down from the 800s to the 50s and the whole family is doing great. They told us we had cancer and we told them we have God.

-The KJB Family

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My name is Lynn Hashemi. And I was diagnosed with a olioastrocytoma in June 2012 after what we thought was a pinched nerve in my neck turned into overall weakness. I work for VCUHS and graduated from VCU in 2006 with a degree in German, this is where I met my husband.

-Lynn Hashemi

Of all the things that inspire me, my friend Dee Dee is at the top of the list. Last month, we ran the Shamrock Half Marathon together. That’s a pretty cool accomplishment, but the real story is the fact that Dee Dee Schurman was halfway through her chemotherapy for breast cancer at the time. Yet, here she was running her little heart out – embracing life and not letting cancer slow her down for a minute. Go Dee Dee – I’ll see you at the Monument Avenue 10k! Love you, girl!

-Susan D

I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 1996. Shock and disbelief were my major obstacles but determination and the resolve to fight took over. In 2013, I celebrated 38 years of marriage and I've seen my 3 children graduate from college. At 53, I started a new career and love it. Life has been good! Share my story.....It's still being written!

-Ernie Armstrong

VCU Massey Cancer Center helped me defeat cancer almost 9 years ago. Since then I have married the love of my life, Luke Howard. Just this January, I went down another medical path and had to undergo a bilateral mastectomy in order to prevent the future high chance of breast cancer because of the radiation from my battle 9 years ago. God has given me a second chance at life and I intend to live it with grace and giving God the glory. Thank you VCU Massey Cancer Center for taking care of me!

-Rebekah Howard

In 2008 at the age of 45 ,I was diagnosed with colon cancer. Thanks to the doctors ,nurses and other staff at VCU Medical Center, I survived 5 months of chemo and 3 surgeries and have been cancer free since 2009. Living a great, healthy life.

-Diane Jones

I am now in my 3rd year of remission from breast cancer. I had my radiation at the Cancer Center at Stony Point in Richmond. At this time I am working with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in Richmond. I feel this is where I need to be to help other cancer patients

-Dolores Reeder

My name is John Runyon. Thanks to VCU Massey Cancer Center and my great doctor, Dr. Sherman Baker, and his great team I am a 6 year lung cancer survivor. I feel good about the rest of my life.

-John Runyon

My name is Gil Green , I am a 26 year testicular cancer survivor. It is by the grace of god that I am here today!!!! Always put your faith in God & your family. I live a humble & good life. I HAVE A LOVELY WIFE AND FOUR WONDERFUL CHILDREN & A BEAUTIFUL 10YR OLD GRANDAUGHTER. DONT EVER GIVE UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Thanks to Dr. Gordon Ginder, PA Kevin Brigle and their great team at Massey Cancer Center, I am a 12 year survivor of leukemia! I am happy to spend time with my great grandson!

-Barbara Murphy, King & Queen, Va.

I was diagnosed with bladder cancer last year. After multiple surgeries, things just kept getting worse with recurrences. I was able to get alternative treatment in Phoenix, AZ, from the world's expert urologist Dr. Donald Lamm and Dr. Daniel Rubin at Naturopathic Specialists in Scottsdale, and I am now cancer-free! It is my birthday every day. I am so grateful for the integrative treatment and care that I have received.

-Jan A, Richmond VA

I was diagnosed with lung cancer June 1988 and I had surgery at MCV to remove 2/3 of my left lung July 1988. I was 28 years old and a single mother with 3 small children at that time. I was very fortunate that I did not have to have chemotherapy and thankful that the cancer has not returned. Since that time I have had another child who is now 23 years old, and I have 5 grandchildren. I enjoy every moment of my life.

-Nancy Brown

I am an 8 year stage IV colon cancer survivor. I have had 3 liver resections. I stay very active with mountain biking, kayaking, weight lifting, ATV riding and riding my motorcycle. I also rfollow a very strict diet and use mental imaging a prayer to help fight and cope with the disease.

-Jeff Anderson

I was diagnosed with cancer almost two years ago. After chemotherapy, I believe that's when I realized just how fortunate I was to be alive. I decided then that each day would be a special one for myself and my family. That's the year I began homeschooling my three beautiful children and spending as much time with them and my husband (of 15 years) as I possibly could. They are my greatest joy! I am profoundly blessed and loving life after cancer.

-Kimberly House

My sister in-law got breast cancer 25 years ago and today she is the pastor of Glory and Fire Ministry. God has already touched her life, and I just want to give her praise for all she does.

-Pamela Payne

I was diagnosed with Leukemia in August of 2009. It was definitely a life changing event. MCV/VCU staff did an awesome job with helping in my treatment and recovery. To see so many people affected by this disease has touched my heart to help through my gift of music. I have created a Music Therapy CD for cancer patients where the songs relate to different challenges that cancer patients endure. A healthy mind is part of the healing process, so I want to encourage and help uplift their spirits so that they can get through this storm.

Music helped me in my healing process along with great care, family, friends, and the will to live.

-Julius C. Turner

This year marks 3 years of being cancer free. The moment it hit (Burkitt's lymphoma), I was a 30 year old up and comer with a beautiful family and a comfortable life. All that got turned upside down in favor of surgeries, intense chemotherapy and frequent doctor/clinic visits. I still remember my then 2 year old daughter visiting and bringing me a little Christmas tree to keep with me in the hospital room.

Even during the 3 years after treatment, you live in a bit of fear that "it might come back." Now though, I have vowed to live life bigger, louder and more deeply. Hug my kids a little tighter, set bigger goals (like marathons, triathlons, making a difference in someone's life everyday). Surviving cancer creates an even bigger challenge...."How do I one-up survival and make the very most of every second I have left."

-Steve Bazemore

My name is Harolynn L. Quash, and I am a 52 year-old female. I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma on December 4, 2004. I am a cancer survivor. I have had 2 stem cells transplants-- one was done in 2008 where Dr. John McCarty and Dr. Harold Chung of Massey Cancer Center used my cells, and then again in 2009, my oldest sister, Pamela Q.Garnett, gave me her cells.

I just want to say that I am doing well and I try to stay busy with activities.

I am currently on disability retirement from my job after 25 years as a 911 Dispatcher for the City of Richmond Police Department. I keep a positive attitude at all times, even sometimes when I am not feeling all that great.

I did have a setback last December 6, 2014 with GVHD. I was hospitalized for a week where the infection attacked my liver, but through the Grace of God I made it and was able to come home and fully recover. I am now currently taking care of my father who's confined to a wheelchair due to a stroke in November 2012. I was also taking care of my mom when she was operated on (the same time I was released from the hospital), but she passed away in August 2014. I had a "full plate" as some people will say, because my 21 year old son had surgery in January 2014, and I had to look after him along with my dad, and I was still recuperating from my illness. People always asked me, "You are taking care of other people, who's taking care of you?" I would respond by saying, "me and God." I am truly blessed and I don't take anything for granted anymore. I live life like it's my last. I always tell people to think positively, never negatively. When the doctor informed me of my cancer, I told him my motto is "I am going to beat it, it's not going to beat me..."

-Harolynn L. Quash