John St. Omer

Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST) Patient Stories

John St. Omer

John enjoyed a vacation with his wife and two younger boys.

As the father to 4 sons ranging from age 31 down to 14, and the general manager of 3 major hospitality hotels, John St. Omer knows how to manage chaos. But managing cancer - when you don't know you have it, is another story altogether.

In the spring 2005, John passed out at his home and was taken to his local emergency room. After describing his symptoms, an endoscopy was performed. Doctors found a mass in John's stomach and performed laparoscopic surgery to remove it. According to John, his discharge instructions made no mention of cancer.

"No one at my local hospital ever told me I had cancer."

In April 2007, about 2 years later, John's symptoms were back and so he returned to the same hospital. Doctors asked him whether he followed up with an oncologist after the initial surgery. "No one at my local hospital ever told me I had cancer," recalled John, who was confused and shocked by this news.

John learned that his original condition, called GIST (for GastroIntestinal Stromal Tumor), was a relatively uncommon type of cancer of the sarcoma class for which close follow-up would be warranted. John gathered that it would have been prudent to see an oncologist - especially now that his cancer had recurred.

John St. Omer

John is grateful to have survived cancer so he can spend time with his family.

John's doctors recommended Fox Chase Cancer Center for their expertise in treating sarcomas.

John's first thought was to travel to New York City for treatment. But his doctors questioned, "Why wouldn't you go to Philadelphia? Fox Chase Cancer Center is one of the best cancer centers in the country and they treat a lot of sarcoma patients."

Several phone calls later - John had scheduled an appointment with an oncologic surgeon at Fox Chase who specializes in treating patients with sarcomas. "Finding Fox Chase was a Godsend," explained John, who refers to these instances as "Godwinks." He researched the Center online and was confident in his decision.

"My doctor made me feel like I was his only patient."

"My doctor made me feel like I was his only patient," shared John. Everyone at Fox Chase made John feel welcome. "My surgeon didn't sugarcoat anything for me - he was honest and direct, which I needed."

After complete removal of the GIST recurrence, John was introduced to Margaret von Mehren, MD, a medical oncologist at Fox Chase who specializes in sarcomas. She started an oral chemotherapy, known as Gleevec, that was the gold standard in helping prevent future recurrences. "I've remained cancer-free ever since. I had an excellent experience at Fox Chase."

John's wife, Maria, is a nurse and felt the attention given to her husband was excellent.

John, a self-described golf fanatic, is thrilled with the results of his treatment. "I was able to swing a club just a couple of months after surgery," he exclaimed. Recently, John has not only been able to swing a club, but he’s won five golf titles!

Having risen to the top of his golfing endeavors, John has taken up running. He’s excelled to an 8.5 minute mile in the Broad Street Run in Philadelphia and has his eyes set to train up to a full marathon. Wanting to give back to the Fox Chase community, he was a top fundraiser for the Jimbo’s Squad team in a recent run. (Learn more here about how you can support John and others trying to raise money for cancer research through running with Jimbo’s Squad).

"My surgeon is phenomenal. He had my best interest at heart."

John recalled that until he was staring at a hospital ceiling from his bed, he really didn't appreciate how precious life and good health are. "I was completely dependent on other people to care for me," John shared, who also relied on his mother's prayers for support. "Having cancer was a humbling experience. I'm now enjoying my second lease on life with no complaints!" John and Maria couldn’t be prouder to recently become grandparents.