Joan Scheiner, Sarcoma
"I'm making good use of the time I've been given."
Grateful Survivor ‘on a Mission’ to Give Back
“In a series of unusual ways,” Joan Scheiner found out she had cancer.
During a standard pre-operative chest x-ray in preparation for knee surgery after an accident, her doctor discovered several spots in her lungs. After undergoing several inconclusive tests over the span of about a year, he suggested she have a lung biopsy. She came to Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
After the procedure, Joan remembers waking up in ICU, where she was reassured everything was fine and that the spots were benign. But three days later, the final pathology results left her in shock.
Her diagnosis: metastatic leiomyosarcoma, an extremely rare type of soft tissue sarcoma. Less than 1 percent of cancers diagnosed each year are soft tissue sarcomas. “When you go to med school, it is one paragraph in one textbook,” Joan says. After much research, she found the best oncologist for her diagnosis, Pasquale Benedetto, M.D., right at Sylvester.
For her first course of treatment, she took an oral chemotherapy drug. The spots in her lungs continued to grow and increase in number. When there were 28 spots, Joan was told her case had reached the “operable tumor limit threshold” and more than likely, she had only 12-18 months to live.
“I was in my early 40s, I had two adolescent sons, and I am married to my childhood sweetheart,” says Joan, who has been with her husband since she was 15 years old. “I couldn’t imagine not being with him and seeing my sons mature into men. And so I was incredibly motivated to believe that if I did everything possible out there, I could manage somehow to help make a miracle.”
Her physician at Sylvester found her a surgeon who could perform the complex operation. All 28 tumors were surgically removed, and what had been a 12-month life expectancy has now been more than 14 years of survival.
“Joan has always struck me as a person who looks at a problem straight on in order to find a solution,” Dr. Benedetto says. “She is intelligent and inquisitive, but also a trusting partner in her care. When faced with the adversity of her diagnosis, she did not look back or question why, but looked forward. This attitude has been immensely important in her victory over the enemy.”
An avid reader, Joan pored over hundreds of pages to help pass the time during treatment and recovery. One day while out in a bookstore, she came across a bookmark that spoke to her. It read: “Anything is possible, if you believe.” She embraced that message of hope and to this day, still tucks that bookmark into her favorite novels.
The Courtelis Center for Psychosocial Oncology at Sylvester was another source of hope for Joan. The center helped her find the inner strength she needed to cope with cancer. She took advantage of the full range of psychosocial services offered at the center, seeing a nutritionist, a psychologist, a social worker, and most importantly, she says, learning how to meditate. She learned how to focus on her emotional, mental, and spiritual health which helped keep her grounded “while my whole world was spinning madly around me.”
“What a great gift to have – a facility that was able to help me find the best in my self at the worst of times,” she says.
I’m making good use of the time I’ve been given.Joan felt so immensely grateful for the life-saving care that her doctors and care team gave her. When she asked her surgeon what she could do to thank him, his answer was simple: “Make good use of the time I gave you.”
When Joan’s 50th birthday was approaching, her husband thought they should celebrate in a big way. Perhaps she would like to take a trip to a country she’d always wanted to visit, or throw a grand party and invite all their friends, or perhaps a piece of jewelry would best mark the occasion.
But to his surprise, she told him she wanted to take the money they could have used to celebrate her 50th birthday, and instead give that money to the place that had enabled her to reach this milestone. And so, Joan and her husband, David, began their mission of supporting the cancer center by donating $50,000 to Sylvester.
After making that initial donation and becoming a member of the Founders Society, Joan felt she could still do more to help. At the urging of her Dr. Benedetto, she got more involved and started raising funds for the cancer center. Joan, who had a background in community service and philanthropy, reached out to friends and family and grew a network of Sylvester supporters.
She became chair of Sylvester’s Development Committee, co-chair of the cancer center’s five-year, $137 million capital campaign, and later, a Grand Founder of Sylvester. In 2007, she was elected chair of Sylvester’s Board of Governors.
“I’m making good use of the time I’ve been given,” she said. “As long as I’m well, and as long as I’m able, I feel as if I’m on a mission. A mission to support the cancer center that has given me life; to develop a center that this community so deserves; to have my family grow and prosper; and to be there for all of the wonderful events in the life of my family. And to ensure the fact that anyone and everyone who needs the services of a world-class cancer center will be met at this place, which will feel like home, not only for its technology, medicine and science, but because it will be a home to them for the compassionate care that they will receive.”
“Joan’s eloquence in relating her personal experience with cancer is a constant inspiration to us all, and it empowers her not only as leader of our Board, but also as a role model for our patients and the community,” says W. Jarrard Goodwin, M.D., F.A.C.S., chief medical officer of Sylvester.
As a long-term survivor, Joan realizes it’s important to look back while she faces forward. She reaches out to others who are now going down the same road she has traveled.
“For me, my greatest joy is to speak to people who have been diagnosed with cancer because so many people helped me,” she said. “Sometimes just talking with someone who has had a terminal diagnosis and who is here 14 years later is enough to give them hope.”