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Cecilia Pappas

Now Making Memories

Holy Name Cancer Center - Cecilia Pappas

At 76, Cecilia Pappas has been through a lot – intense, challenging times that might have made others give up. She didn't, and now she's living a fulfilling life even though she has ovarian cancer, a disease that only a decade ago probably would have killed her quickly.

It's been nearly four years since Cecilia ended up in a Bergen County pharmacy parking lot, miles away from her destination, unconscious in her car in the middle of the day. She doesn't remember driving there or stopping, but she knows a stranger saw her and called police. She credits the unknown Good Samaritan with saving her life that October day in 2015.

Emergency workers brought her to a hospital near where she was found. She had a 107-degree fever and slipped into a coma for four days. Doctors told Cecilia's children she might not survive. It seemed she had an abscess in her small intestine that was infected and she had developed sepsis, a potentially life-threatening reaction to the infection.

Yet this condition may have saved Cecilia's life. It was during the surgery to treat her that physicians found ovarian cancer cells.

Once she learned of her diagnosis, Cecilia knew she wanted to come to Holy Name, where she had been born and returned whenever she needed medical care – a colon resection, knee replacement and colonoscopies, among other procedures. Cecilia met with Dr. Sharyn Lewin, the Medical Director of Gynecologic Oncology and nationally known for her expertise in all gynecologic cancers.

Dr. Lewin performed her procedure, which as with other ovarian cancer surgeries was complicated because the surgeon must find every visible sign of the disease. Dr. Lewin, who advocates on a national level for examining the entire abdomen when treating ovarian cancer, made sure no cancer cells could be detected in nearby organs or on Cecilia's abdominal wall.

"Dr. Lewin was generally positive about it and said the disease could be managed," Cecilia said. "Treatment has advanced in the last few years and this made such a difference – I felt hopeful. I also went to a support group at Holy Name and saw women who had many recurrences and are still here. One woman had ovarian cancer 12 years ago and now she's cancer free. My faith is strong and I am hoping to make it to 90."

Having faith and a good attitude is essential, Cecilia said. She married her husband in 2003 and two years later, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), what is still commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease. It is always fatal but her husband "believed everyone gets a cross at some point" and made the best of it. They continued to vacation at Lake George throughout his illness, going on the beach in a wheelchair when he could no longer walk. He died only two months prior to Cecilia's diagnosis.

"Attitude makes all the difference," Cecilia said. "And being grateful. My children who live in the area check in with me. My daughter who lives near Pennsylvania makes me dinners, freezes and brings them for days when I'm not up to cooking – it's the best gift ever. I have friends who take me for errands when I can't drive. I'm very lucky to have such caring family and friends."

Cecilia has had two recurrences but she's gone into remission after treatment each time. She bounces back and enjoys holidays with her family, continuing to make new memories and treasuring precious moments.

"And being at Holy Name has been such a blessing," Cecilia said. "They have a car service to bring me for treatment, which makes all the difference – I don't have to ask people who are already bending over backwards for me. And when you enter the hospital, people know who you are. They are so warm and receptive. It's not just their job. Even when you're getting radiation – they want to make sure you're comfortable, bringing me a blanket or a pillow when I need one. If you have to have a disease like this, Holy Name makes it so much better."

Learn more about Cecilia Pappas's gynecologic oncology doctor today