‘I Knew Something Was Wrong Before the Doctors Did’

HealHeal Winter 2021

Theresa Germano sat down with HEAL® to discuss her journey with cancer, how her daughter became her hero and how listening to her body benefited her in the end.

In 2018, Theresa Germano received a diagnosis of stage 4 gastroesophageal junction cancer (esophagus and stomach intersection), which had spread to her liver. Earlier, Germano had been struggling with swallowing and knew something was wrong.

After receiving her diagnosis, Germano’s daughter Adriana, who is a three-time cancer survivor herself, became Germano’s caregiver. She moved in with her and was with her through every step. Germano said she could not have gone through the journey without her by her side.

Since then, Germano began treatment with immunotherapy and is doing well. She stays healthy and active, and continues to listen to her body.

Q: HEAL®: How did you find out you had cancer? What led to your diagnosis?

A: Germano: I hadn’t been feeling too good for a few months, and I knew things weren’t right, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. Then it started with swallowing; I was having difficulty. I couldn’t imagine what it was all about. The food would get stuck; it wouldn’t go down, it would come back up. I went to my gastroenterologist and complained to him. I guess he couldn’t put his finger on the problem, either.

He just suggested taking smaller bites. I tried that and also tried taking liquids to help food go down. It got to the point where I said, “I can’t be doing this; there’s something going on here.” He suggested that I have a swallow test ... and all they could determine was that I had a narrowing toward the end of the esophagus that led into the stomach. My doctor wasn’t able to give me any idea of what they could do for it ... the doctors were just puzzled.

I tried to do what I could until it got to the point where it really was bad and I was really having a problem. I went to the emergency room with my daughter and they admitted me, and that’s when the testing started.

Q: How did you feel when you found out you had cancer?

A: I wasn’t surprised, because it’s in our genes, our history, our family. And I always said, I was very lucky to get this far in life without any problems. I was always healthy and active. I went to the gym, tried to eat right, never smoked. At that moment, I was thinking, “How am I supposed to feel if I have cancer, other than I can’t swallow? Do they really have it right?” It was crazy, but that’s how it all started. There was more testing and, in a couple of weeks, I found an oncologist here at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey, who has really been an angel to me and has guided me and helped me along the way.

Q: What was your treatment like?

A: We did 12 rounds of chemotherapy and, shortly after that, 23 treatments of radiation. Right now, I’m on immunotherapy and I just had my 25th treatment of that. I get my CT scans every three months to see what’s going on and, so far, everything is very quiet and I’m able to function. I think for my age and my problem, I’m doing very well. I really can’t complain. I am not in any discomfort of any kind, though I get tired. Adriana has been my hero, believe me. I am so blessed because I don’t think I could have gone through this without somebody who really was there in every way, every minute of the day. A year ago, she said, “Mother, I think it’s time I move on,” which was hard, but it was time. I’ve been alone, and I’ve been able to manage quite well. They keep an eye on me here; I am very close with both of my daughters and my grandkids. I truly have been blessed so far.

Q: How has your life changed since you received the diagnosis?

A: It hasn’t changed a whole heck of a lot, to be honest with you. At a very young age I lost my mom, when I was almost 4. She had colon cancer, and it was devastating, but I was so young that I really didn’t truly understand what it’s like not to have a mom. My mother’s sister raised me because my dad had to work, and my brother went with my grandmother. I learned to be very independent at a very young age and try to figure things out myself. So, dealing with the diagnosis really wasn’t difficult for me, to be honest with you, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I just said to myself, “Whatever is in the cards is in the cards, and I’ll do what I have to do.” And that’s all I can do. It really hasn’t changed a whole lot. Other than, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I don’t really get out a lot right now.

Q: Do you have any advice for others who might be going through what you went through?

A: Oh gosh, the advice that I can give them is to listen to your body. ... You have to be strong and believe in yourself and the help you’re getting. Just fight away. I always say, what’s going to be is going to be. I’ve always listened to my body and I knew before the doctors knew that something was not right.

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