Creating Purpose: Survivor Becomes Advocate for Colon Cancer After Taking On the Fight of Her Life

Cynthia Heath got the shock of her life when she learned she had colon cancer and a limited time to live. Now, she is an advocate for others who find themselves in the shoes she was in a decade ago.
Cynthia Heath was told she had one year to live. That was in 2007. Now, nearly 10 years after she was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer that had metastasized to her liver, she is thriving as a survivor and advocate for others battling the disease.

The thought of cancer had never even crossed Heath’s mind. She went on vacation, but was sick the entire time. When she got off the cruise ship, she went to her primary care physician — the doctor she saw every year for wellness exams — and told her that she knew something was wrong. She was sent for a colonoscopy after she began to experience severe abdominal pain, but it couldn’t be performed because the mass was too large. A biopsy concluded that it was indeed cancer, and, at the time, deemed inoperable.

“I knew nothing about any of this. I just knew that I had this disease and that, from all medical standpoints, I shouldn’t be here,” said Heath in an interview with CURE. “Everything was in a fog and I still didn’t realize, until I was hooked up to get chemotherapy, that I had cancer.”

The battle for her life was filled with aggressive chemotherapy, radiation treatment and three major surgeries between 2007 and 2010.

A turning point for Heath was in 2009, when she attended a colon cancer conference. That’s when she connected with the Colon Cancer Alliance, the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the suffering caused by colon cancer in the United States.

“When I went to that conference and saw people who were my age, who knew what I meant — it was powerful,” Heath said. “You could just look in their eyes and not say a word and know that they understood both you and your journey.”

Heath also met Michael Sapienza, the organization’s chief executive officer. That meeting became a blessing when he introduced her to John Marshall, M.D., director of the Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancers, at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

In August 2014, her cancer came back. But, with a phone call to Marshall, she was squeezed in for an appointment the following week.

“Dr. Marshall asked me what my goal was,” she recalled. “I told him that I wanted to control the cancer and remain stable. He said, ‘Well, let me tell you what my goal is. It’s to cure you.’ Talk about getting ready to battle again. It gave me the inner strength to fight.”

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