Featured Voice: Patti Murillo-Casa and How She Overcame a Second Health Battle Post-Cancer
In November 2008, three months after my retirement from the New York City Police Department, I was diagnosed with stage IIB cervical cancer.
It was definitely a shock. At the time, I did not know anyone who had cervical cancer. I felt alone in the fight even though I had the support of my husband, family, and friends.
Dr. Jason Wright, chief of the Division of Gynecologic/Oncology at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, was my treating oncologist. Dr. Wright informed me that my treatment was going to consist of 35 rounds of external radiation, seven rounds of chemotherapy, and two sessions of brachytherapy. It was long, scary, and difficult. Nevertheless, I completed my treatment in 2009 and made it through.
On May 5, 2009, we claimed success. The treatments worked – there were no evidence of disease. Yay to me! But, now what?
As soon as the doctor tells you that you are “cancer-free”, most people think that you are able to pick up life where you left off. That is definitely not the case. What goes on with our mind, body, and emotions after the battle is something we do not often hear about.
I was grateful for my second chance, but I also became depressed. I began wallowing in self-pity, and fearful that this monster would somehow come back. There are many collateral damages after having cancer—mentally, physically, and emotionally.
At the time, I could not find my old self. I did not know which way to go. I felt exhausted. I felt alone, empty, and without purpose. I turned to food as a source of comfort, and as time went on, the pounds started staying with me. After a year my weight tipped to 240 pounds. I am 5’3” so that put me in the morbidly obese category.
Of course, my choices brought consequences. Soon after, I received three different diagnoses. I had diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and began taking five different medications to control these illnesses.
I told myself that I did not beat cancer to live an unhealthy life. However, that concept did not click until a year later. My diabetes was not being controlled due to the lack of proper nutrition on my part, and the doctor contemplated to start insulin injections.
I immediately thought, this cannot happen! I witnessed my mom inject herself with insulin for 40 years of her life. This was not going to be me. I can control this—it was all up to me. I know I had to do a lot of work, but I was ready. I was determined to change my mindset and take advantage of this amazing second chance.
In 14 months, I lost 113 pounds, mostly with portion control and exercise. It was another difficult journey, but I had my optimum health as a motivator. I was able to reverse all of my illnesses, and as a result, I no longer take any medications. Keeping a healthy lifestyle is a daily struggle, but the benefits are endless.
Today, I am a group fitness instructor who specializes in senior fitness and cancer recovery fitness. I am also a patient advocate and sit on the patient advocacy advisory board and the community advisory board at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC). It is important for me to advocate on behalf of cancer patients and to also engage with our community.
Silent I will not stay any longer. I share my story because I want women to learn from it. I want women to know that if they are fighting this disease, they are not alone. I am here, and so are many of us who are willing to support them. I want to educate other women on how to prevent this disease, to make my generation the last generation with cervical cancer.
I am also the NYC Ambassador of the Cervivor organization, as well as their wellness instructor. Cervivor is a nonprofit organization of survivors turned advocates sharing our stories and using our voices to help other women. My own cancer journey was a success and so far, my post-cancer journey is proving to be one, too.
HICCC Featured Voices gives our patients, members, and supporters an opportunity to share their personal stories—living with cancer, surviving cancer, researching cancer, and aiming to end cancer. If you have a story to share and want to be included as a featured voice, please email the HICCC Communications team at firstname.lastname@example.org.