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Young Cancer Patient Finds Hope and Healing at Memorial

Cancer at any age is devastating, and Diego found his diagnosis especially hard to comprehend.

"When it hits you in your 20s it's just so hard to find hope, someone to relate to," Diego says. "I turned to the Internet to search for stories on people my age with cancer. I couldn't find anything to give me hope. It's the reason I had to share my story."

Diego enjoyed an active and healthy lifestyle. So in early 2004 when he started having chronic colds and fevers, and later night sweats, he knew it was time to see his doctor.

"I went to my doctor but he said it was a cold or allergies and sent me home," says Diego. "It wasn't until I woke up one night with trouble breathing that I knew something was terribly wrong. I went immediately to the Emergency Department at Memorial Hospital West."

A chest X-ray revealed inflammation in his chest. The emergency room physician referred him to Memorial Regional Hospital for a biopsy.

The Dreaded 'C' Word

"When they told me I had cancer, I kept thinking that word shouldn't be in my vocabulary," says Diego. "I was really scared. I wanted to find someone who could offer me hope."

Diego was diagnosed with germ cell cancer, a rare cancer that researchers believe is linked to early development when germ cells usually move into the reproductive organs. But sometimes, the misplaced germ cells settle in the chest, as in Diego's case, or other parts of the body. The treatment and prognosis depends upon the location and whether the cancer has spread.

After searching the Internet and contacting several area hospitals, Diego went to Memorial Cancer Institute to see Lyle Feinstein, MD, oncologist and Director of the Bone Marrow Transplant Program at Memorial Cancer Institute.

Finding Hope

"I remember walking into the Memorial Cancer Institute and being really scared," says Diego. "I looked around in the waiting room and saw other cancer patients and that's when I realized I was sick too. Thankfully, everyone from the valet attendant to the receptionist was very kind. At Memorial you are not a statistic, you're treated like a guest in a home."

After reviewing his history and biopsy results, Dr. Feinstein met with Diego.

"He was very straightforward with me – I needed surgery, chemotherapy and more surgery," Diego. "Most importantly, he listened and gave me hope. I knew I'd made the right choice."

Dr. Feinstein immediately admitted Diego for surgery to remove fluid from around his heart. He also implanted a port for chemotherapy.

"Six months of chemo was brutal," says Diego. "I was admitted during chemotherapy, then home for short breaks. I felt completely wiped out. At a time when I was physically, mentally and spiritually broken, the Memorial team gave me hope."

Once the tumor had reduced, Diego underwent surgery to remove it. Because the tumor had attached to Diego's lung and heart sac, the Memorial surgical team also took out those affected parts.

Following surgery, Dr. Feinstein recommended more chemotherapy to provide Diego the best prognosis possible.

"That was hard news to take," says Diego "At first, I was upset, but I knew Dr. Feinstein had my best interest at heart. He saved my life and I was ready to make the most of my life in return."

Five years since his Memorial journey began, Diego's follow-up tests show he is cancer-free.

"Not only did Memorial save my life, but they gave me new life too," says Diego. "Both of my sons were born there. I feel so blessed. We are truly a Memorial miracle family."


 

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