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Maria Bento and her husband, Jose, left Portugal in 1973 and moved to America - the land of opportunity. Once here, they built both a close-knit family and a successful construction business in Philadelphia. Maria, a strong-willed woman, has learned many lessons over the years. Most importantly, to trust her gut and to question the decisions of others. That lesson might have saved her life.
In May 2003, Maria began experiencing severe stomach pain. She went back and forth between doctors, had test after test, but was given no definitive answer. "The doctors saw a spot, but told me it was probably nothing," said Maria. "They wanted me to come back in a year." That was unacceptable to Maria.
"I was so frustrated with my doctors at that point."
After losing a sister and nephew to stomach cancer, Maria thought the worst. "I was so frustrated with my doctors at that point," Maria admitted. "Finally, in November I went to Fox Chase Cancer Center. I met with Dr. Haluzska and couldn't have been more pleased," Maria shared. "From there, it only took 2 months to test, diagnose and schedule my surgery."
Maria's gastroenterologist, Oleh Haluszka, MD, diagnosed her with gastric-based gastrointestinal stromal tumor or GIST, which is a relatively uncommon type of cancer of the sarcoma class.
"When I heard it was cancer, I couldn't believe it," shared Maria. "Although I was proud of myself for persevering with doctor after doctor, I was really scared." Dr. Haluszka referred Maria to a surgeon and medical oncologist at Fox Chase. James C. Watson, MD, the oncologic surgeon, specializes in gastrointestinal and sarcoma surgery, including GIST, and Margaret von Mehren, MD, her medical oncologist, has expertise in sarcoma treatment.
"Dr. Watson is a warm and compassionate surgeon."
"Dr. Watson was wonderful. My English isn't perfect, so between the doctor and my family, they explained things in a way I could understand. I felt so comfortable," said Maria. "Dr. Watson is a warm and compassionate surgeon." He recommended surgery to remove the tumor. Maria agreed and underwent the procedure. "Everything went so well. The nurses were very nice and supportive."
The surgery was a success and Maria recovered nicely. "I had a second meeting with Dr. von Mehren, who is a sweetheart. She felt I was doing well and did not require additional treatment," Maria recalled. "After that, I began seeing both doctors periodically for check-ups and CAT Scans."
Reaching the 5-Year Milestone and Feeling Great
In January 2009, Maria reached the 5-year disease-free milestone. "It feels great to be healthy again," Maria said. She is back at work with her husband and enjoys her travels to Portugal to spend time with family. Best of all, Maria will become a grandmother for the first time in 2009.
Maria wants to encourage other people in her shoes to "Persevere. Follow your instincts. If you don't like what you hear from one doctor, get a second opinion. By following this advice, I was diagnosed relatively early and my cancer is behind me. I'm free to enjoy my life and my family."