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Cindy Cerone

Fighting a Recurring Rare Cancer

After being diagnosed with some cancers, many people are relieved to hear a statistic saying few individuals ever get a recurrence. Cindy Cerone was one of those patients. The 59-year-old was told her vulva cancer, which is very rare, would probably never return and if it does, most likely it wouldn’t be until she’s in her 90’s.

Unfortunately, Cindy turned out to be one of the “few” indicated in the statistics. Only four years later, she had a recurrence. A year later, she had still one more. But Cindy has always been the type to fight and she’s not even close to giving up.

“I’m definitely scared – how can you not be scared – but I’ve never lost hope,” Cindy said. “I’m not going to let this beat me.”

An Expert for a Rare Disease

Cindy had gynecologic symptoms to indicate something was wrong. They started with a persistent itch, similar to having a yeast infection, and progressed to a number of other signs, including pain, swelling and a painful growth. Because she’s really uncomfortable with gynecologic exams, she postponed making an appointment until months had passed.

When a biopsy showed she had cancer, Cindy’s gynecologist admitted she knew little about the disease, even mislabeling it as clitoral cancer. The physician did however, recommend Dr. Sharyn Lewin, the Medical Director of Gynecologic Oncology at Holy Name Medical Center.

Dr. Lewin, renowned for her expertise in all types of gynecologic cancers, immediately knew Cindy had vulva cancer and outlined the treatment options. She advised surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

“I felt like I could trust Dr. Lewin as soon as I met her so I went with her recommendation,” Cindy said. “I could have opted out of the surgery but she thought I needed it so I was going to follow her advice.”

Cindy’s surgery was delicate and complicated – her cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. It took months for Cindy to heal before she could start radiation and chemotherapy. 

“It was a serious surgery but from Dr. Lewin to all the nurses and technicians, to the visiting nurses who came to my home after I was discharged – they were so professional and comforting,” Cindy said. “The care I received at Holy Name was amazing.”

When her body was ready, Cindy met with Dr. Benjamin Rosenbluth, Chief of Radiation Oncology at Holy Name. Together, Dr. Rosenbluth and Dr. Lewin prepared a treatment plan. Cindy would need 35 daily radiation treatments, with 6 chemotherapy sessions at the same time to enhance the radiation’s effect on the cancer cells.

It was tough – though radiation is a painless treatment – it can cause temporary damage to skin and organs that produces symptoms. In Cindy’s case, she had severe pain whenever she urinated. Fortunately, her chemotherapy was “light” and she tolerated it well.

Finally, her treatments were over and she was back to living her life working two jobs and seeing her family and friends. She went for regular scans to be sure the cancer didn’t return. 

Listening to her Instincts 

Four years later, though Cindy had so symptoms, her instincts told her something was wrong. She saw Dr. Lewin, who listened to Cindy’s concerns, investigated and found that indeed, her cancer had returned. Cindy had another surgery but Dr. Lewin and Dr. Rosenbluth collaborated and decided no further treatment was necessary.

In the year following her procedure, COVID hit. Several months later, so did a feeling that her cancer returned again. Despite the pandemic, Cindy had no reservations about returning to the hospital. 

“I kept looking at Holy Name’s website and I saw all they were doing to keep the hospital clean and patients safe so I was really comfortable going back.” 

Dr. Lewin discovered Cindy was right again. Her cancer was back. This time, she didn’t need surgery but received five more radiation sessions. 

“They don’t know why my cancer keeps returning but I know they’re doing everything they can to treat me,” Cindy said. “And I really trust them. Dr. Lewin is so much more than a doctor – she treats you like family. And Dr. Rosenbluth also takes a lot of time to explain my treatment. He told me how invested in me the staff was and I could feel that.”

Cancer Free

Now, three months out of treatment and Cindy is regaining her strength and wellness. She’s looking forward to getting back to one of her jobs working in a ticket office at a local stadium. 

“Even if I didn’t get sick, my job stopped with COVID,” Cindy said. “It will be great to get back to it.”

She’s also looking forward to again attending some of the in-person events offered through Cancer Support Community (CSC) at Holy Name. She credits Courtney Lozano, the Director of CSC, with helping her find online support during COVID.

“The support I’ve received from Cancer Support Community has been just as great as the care I received from those who treated me,” Cindy said. “Dr. Lewin, Dr. Rosenbluth and everyone at Holy Name who have been involved with my treatment have made such a difference. They really got me through this.”

Learn more about Cindy's ObGyn Physician at Holy Name