March 8, 2019

Two-Time Cancer Survivor Fights Back

Sherry Tuminello (left) recently celebrated her survivorship with friends Jane Hartz and Pat McClelland during a Seed of Hope survivors' ceremony at the UAMS Cancer Institute.

Sherry Tuminello (left) recently celebrated her survivorship with friends Jane Hartz and Pat McClelland during a Seed of Hope survivors’ ceremony at the UAMS Cancer Institute.

Fifteen years after undergoing a mastectomy to remove a cancerous tumor from her right breast, Sherry Tuminello thought her fight was over. Unfortunately, she was wrong.

In 2006, Tuminello noticed a small raised area where her mastectomy had been performed and went to her local doctor to have it examined. After a series of tests and procedures, she received a diagnosis that she didn’t anticipate: cancer.

“I couldn’t understand how I had cancer in the same place again since I no longer had my right breast,” said Tuminello. In that moment, she asked her doctor to call the only person she knew could help, V. Suzanne Klimberg, M.D., chief of the Division of Breast Surgical Oncology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).

“Dr. Klimberg had performed my mastectomy procedure in 1992 and is a simply brilliant doctor,” said Tuminello. “I never left her office without a sense of hope and dose of humor, and I knew she could help me again.” After the initial phone call, Tuminello came straight to UAMS and met with her treatment team, which included Klimberg and was headed by Issam Makhoul, M.D., associate professor in the Division of Hematology/Oncology in the UAMS College of Medicine.

At UAMS, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic cancer located in her internal mammary lymph node, which is found behind the point where the sternum meets the rib cage.

“It’s more common to see cancer spread to the lymph nodes under the arm,” Makhoul said. “Rarely do we see these lymph nodes and the chest wall as the only site for metastatic disease so long after the first diagnosis, but that’s what we found with Ms. Tuminello.”

After determining that initial surgery of her chest wall was too risky, her team of physicians at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute developed an aggressive radiation and hormone therapy to shrink the tumor.

When the radiation therapy was complete and the tumor was shrinking, doctors at UAMS recommended that she seek advice from a surgeon in New York with extensive experience in surgery of the chest wall. However, after visiting with the surgeon, she came home with good news.

“The doctor in New York said that he agreed with the radiation therapy we had performed and that he didn’t think surgery could improve on her outcome,” Makhoul said.

Now, five years later, Tuminello remains cancer free. “UAMS provided me with a level of treatment that I could have not received anywhere else,” she said.

Makhoul credits much of Tuminello’s positive outcome with her strong determination and logical outlook. “All of us will someday be faced with an important decision that will influence the rest of our lives. Ms. Tuminello never lost her good judgment. Of course she was scared, but she didn’t let the cancer dominate her emotionally or spiritually. She fought back, and people who actively decide to fight seem to do better,” he said.

Now in remission, Tuminello said that she looks forward to making long-lasting memories with her friends and family. “In the end, nothing really matters but the memories you create with the ones you love,” said Tuminello. “I have been able to visit Disney World with my grandchildren, watch my older grandchildren learn to drive, visit my family in California, and retire from teaching. None of that would have been possible without the treatment I received at UAMS.”

She also looks for ways to help others. She has participated in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure for the past 18 years and is a member of Breast Friends, a breast cancer support group located in Stuttgart.

“Due to my unwavering faith and the wonderful team of caring doctors at UAMS, I am alive today. I just want to encourage cancer patients to keep a positive attitude, have faith and believe in the doctors who are working to save their lives,” she said. “If people see others survive cancer, it gives them hope that they can do the same.”