WOMEN WHO INSPIRE – A FLORIDA HOSPITAL FOR WOMEN SERIES
A Conversation with Breast Cancer Survivor Maria Guthrie
Even though she was diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer and told she may not see her children graduate from high school, Maria Guthrie asked her team at Florida Hospital for the most aggressive treatment plan and vowed to survive. Here is her story.
It was weird how I was diagnosed because it was in my lymph nodes up to my clavicle. It was scary. I could not feel anything at all. I think it’s a God thing. My daughter had just had a total thyroidectomy that weekend. I had been at the hospital with her but that Monday I had a scratch on my hand and I noticed my arm was sore underneath. I was due for a physical the first part of February 2012 and I told my doctor. She said it was probably an infection but that I was due for my mammogram
She gave me antibiotics and it never hurt again. When she wrote the mammogram prescription she said your insurance company might kick it back but I’m going to write it with the axilla [armpit]. If not for that, they would not have found it. Even when I had an MRI and a PET scan they never found cancer
in the breast. It was breast cancer because it started there. They think it attached on the edge of my breast and moved up. We got the pathology back and my husband went with me because my doctor told me I should bring him. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t find the cancer but wanted me to get the best care. We decided I should go to Florida Hospital for treatment. The next appointment was with the oncologist Dr. Philip Dunn. By then the staging information had come in and it showed I had breast cancer and it was bad. I asked how bad it was. And he asked how old my kids were. I told him, and he said I might see them graduate. That was the goal. I told him that was not good enough.
I went immediately to get scans and my port put in — that was March 7. By March 28 I had
my first chemo treatment. I did lots of chemo until July 2012 and then at the end of July, I had a double mastectomy and my lymph nodes removed. I told them to take the port out while I was under as it was a reminder. They thought I should keep it, but I insisted. When the pathology came back there was still cancer in the lymph nodes. They thought they had gotten it all, but the team at Florida Hospital was able to get me into a clinical trial. I did another 16 weeks of chemo and a lifetime max of radiation that ended within a week of a full year of treatment.
When I think back about it, the hardest part is between the diagnosis and treatment plan. When you get the plan, you are given back a little bit of control. I urged everyone to give me the strongest drugs and get it done. When I realized I would not be finished with treatment by Christmas it really set me back.
My husband arranged a trip to the Don Cesar in St. Pete when I was bald and couldn’t get sun. But he knew I liked it, so he wrapped me up in towels and I listened to the ocean for two days and I was fine. I regrouped. I think the hair loss is hard on women. I had to wear a wig because my bald head really bothered my daughter. When I went out I wore a wig because I didn’t want to be the cancer patient, especially when I was feeling good. No one reminds you that you’re going to lose your eyebrows and lashes. You get out of the shower and your skin is gray and you have no hair. You look dead. It was my place to cry and then pull myself together.
I would share that so much of the cancer fight is mental as much as it is physical. I knew I could get through the treatment by pretending it was a saline bag. I prepared myself for that. But what no one told me about the red devil [a particularly strong chemotherapy] is that the nurses come in double-gowned with face masks and goggles, no skin showing. And instead of bringing a new IV bag they bring
in the biggest syringes — the size of turkey basters. There were two on a tray. They can’t push it too fast or it’s bad for the heart, so they just stare at their watches. It surprised me; and I share this with everyone who asks me, so they can be prepared.
Florida Hospital has been wonderful. I always joke that this is a sorority I don’t want any of my friends to join. But it’s been a really neat group of women. My life has changed because of it and I wouldn’t trade the lessons I have learned in this journey with cancer. This is a gift. I look at life differently. Tomorrow is not promised. I want to be a grandmother one day. My oldest just got engaged. My middle child just graduated from Northwestern University. My youngest daughter is a senior in high school.
Maria finished treatment in 2013, and shortly after a friend encouraged her to partner on a business, College Map, that assists high school students with the college admissions process. She still gets regular
check-ups and scans and has undergone a preventive hysterectomy. She is still on tamoxifen and will be for five more years.
NEED HELP MANAGING YOUR HEALTH CARE?
One call to Florida Hospital for Women’s Health Navigator Doreen Forsythe, BSN, RN, can help you
coordinate all your health care. Florida Hospital for Women understands the intricate role women play in their family’s healthcare decisions and needs. Doreen is a specially trained registered nurse who is
available to help women access Florida Hospital’s extensive network of services across Central Florida. This coordination specialist not only provides expert, clinical assistance, but also helps manage your overall care and identifies ways to speed up the process of scheduling physician appointments and procedures. The health navigator acts as your personal advocate — creating a seamless healthcare experience that focuses on health, wellness, hospitality and convenience.
As a registered nurse, Doreen has been a valued member of the Florida Hospital team since 2001. Graduating from Villanova University in Pennsylvania, she has more than 15 years of experience in multiple nursing disciplines including cardiology, neurology, surgery and nursing education. No matter what kind of women’s health services you need, Doreen can connect you with the right doctors and resources to ensure you receive the best treatment available. This complimentary service is available to all women.
To speak to Doreen, or to schedule an appointment, call 407- 720-5191.