A young woman has shared how she managed to beat the odds and recover from a rare cancer, despite doctors giving her a five percent survival rate.
Zulema Rubio, a recent graduate and legal assistant from New Jersey in the US, explained how she first experienced some unusual symptoms such as a swollen face in April 2020 – but attributed it to too much salt and too little exercise during the Covid – 19 pandemic.
But when her lymph nodes felt hard, Zulema, then 23 years old, made a trip to the emergency room and was quickly referred to the emergency room at Hackensack University Medical Center.
There, doctors discovered a tumor and initially thought that Zulema, who is now cancer-free, may have had lymphoma because of her age, but in July she was diagnosed with intimal sarcoma – a rare malignant tumor.
Zulema, pictured here after recovering from a rare cancer, initially thought her facial swelling was due to too much salt and too little exercise. But doctors discovered a tumor
Zulema (pictured after treatment), now 24 and cancer-free, shares her story in an effort to inspire others — as well as encourage people to seek medical attention if they have unusual symptoms
Zulema’s condition affected the blood flowing from her face and brain to her heart.
dr. Andrew Pecora, of the John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center and one of the world’s foremost experts in blood and marrow stem cell transplantation, cellular medicine and immunology research, treated Zulema.
He explained that the prognosis was not good at first, saying, “When I met Zulema, I was afraid of her. Here was this beautiful young woman, and her veins and face were swollen.
“When I got the tissue diagnosis, I knew I was very unlikely to be able to help her.”
When the young woman was first diagnosed with cancer, doctors thought it was lymphoma. But it turned out to be an intimal sarcoma – a rare malignant tumor
WHAT IS INTIMAL SARCOMA?
Intimal sarcoma (ISA) is an extremely rare undifferentiated sarcoma that arises in the pulmonary artery and less commonly in the aorta or its branches.
ISAs behave very aggressively with average patient survival ranging from 5 to 18 months.
Patients with ISA are usually middle-aged at diagnosis and typically present with nonspecific symptoms, sometimes presenting as thromboembolic disease.
For example, patients are often diagnosed in an advanced stage of the disease.
ISAs are often said to be resistant to conventional chemotherapy.’
It turned out that the cancer was in Zulema’s superior vena cava — a large vein in the upper body that carries blood from the head, neck, upper chest and arms to the heart.
dr. Pecora, along with a team of doctors specializing in thoracic and cardiac surgery, treated the 23-year-old, who faced a very aggressive treatment plan.
This included chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and then daily radiation for six weeks.
About the intensity of the treatment, Zulema said: “I was in the hospital and had 24 hours of continuous chemo, four days in a row, every two weeks.”
This was followed by a complicated 14-hour surgical procedure, in which doctors had to remove part of the superior vena cava vein and place it in tubing to allow blood to flow through.
“I went in on March 24, 2021,” explains Zulema. The operation lasted 14 hours. The first four hours were spent with doctors trying to determine if it was possible.’
Doctors weren’t the only ones who went through a few stressful and uncertain hours: Zulema’s mother, Monique Jasso, waited anxiously the whole time.
To make matters worse, she was unable to be in the hospital with her daughter due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Monique explains: ‘After four hours of surgery, the doctors called me from the hospital and said they would try it.’
The survivor (pictured during treatment) urges people with illness to persevere and not give up on themselves, noting that her doctors struggled with her 14-hour surgery and that she had to fight through the treatment herself
The next update she got was that they had managed to remove her daughter’s tumor – and it would be fine.
“We just cried and prayed and are so grateful,” she said, attributing the success of the treatment to her daughter’s fighting spirit and the talented doctors.
Speaking of the complexity of the treatment, Dr. Pecora commented: ‘This procedure was as complicated as you can get from a surgical side.
‘We used all the tools in the toolbox from a cancer perspective. She wouldn’t be here without the skill of this entire team.
“The knowledge, skill and technical prowess that these doctors brought to achieve this, along with nurses and radiotherapists, was truly a magical coalition that came together to provide care that they wouldn’t find many places in the country to achieve an incredible result.” reach.’
Zulema, who is now 24 and cancer-free, is sharing her story to inspire others — as well as encourage people to seek medical attention if they have unusual symptoms.
She also calls on those with illnesses to persevere and not give themselves up, noting that her doctors struggled with her 14-hour surgery and she had to fight through the treatment herself.
Zulema Rubio, now 24, revealed how strenuous her treatment program was, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy and then six weeks of daily radiation. Pictured here after surgery, the young woman is now cancer free