OKEECHOBEE — If it weren’t for Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Cynthia Holmes believes she would not be here today. In 2012, she was busy with the high school band. The kids were going to Washington, D.C., and she felt a lymph node under her arm. She had trouble with lymph nodes in the past, she said. She was a seamstress by trade. She made custom window treatments for homes and yachts along the east coast. She thought maybe she needed a tetanus shot, but she put off going to the doctor. She got busy with the kids. She went to Washington with her daughter and the band and had a great time with the kids.
When she got back, she mentioned it to one of her friends. Her friends asked her what she was doing. “You have a bump under your arm. What are you doing?” So, the friend made an appointment for her to go see her gynecologist so she could get a mammogram done. She saw the doctor on Monday, had a mammogram on Wednesday and saw a surgeon on Thursday. The following week she was having surgery. That was in June 2012. On July 3, she got word it was definitely cancer — stage two, triple negative.
A few weeks later, she was in surgery again for a mastectomy on her right breast. She allowed the surgery to happen here in Okeechobee. She regrets it, but she is alive and that’s all that matters, she said. She ended up with a blood clot in her chest and wound up in surgery again. They took more lymph nodes out during the second operation, she said. All together, the surgeon removed 27 of her lymph nodes and then told her she was cured. She no longer had cancer. He never sent her to an oncologist, she said.
During that time period, one of her fellow band parents, Leah Suarez, who is very familiar with county medical things, advised her to call Moffitt. When she arrived, she saw an oncologist, and she asked Ms. Holmes, “Who told you you were cured of cancer?” Ms. Holmes told her the surgeon in Okeechobee told her she was cured. He said, “I don’t know what your problem is. You’re cured. I cut the cancer out of you.” At Moffitt, they told her she was not cured. She needed to go through chemo and radiation. The oncologist told her, of the 27 lymph nodes removed, only the first one was cancerous, but because of the triple negative, aggressive cancer, she had to have chemo and radiation, so she believes if it were not for Moffitt, she would not be alive today. “Because that surgeon told me I was fine.”
So, she went through chemo and radiation. She had a total of nine operations. She had her last operation in 2015. Her friends drove her back and forth to chemo, and then when it was time for radiation treatments, she had to live over there during the week and came home on weekends. Moffitt is just beautiful, she said. It may seem like it is too far to travel, but it is well worth the drive. Ms. Holmes’ daughter was still in high school back then and she was Ms. Holmes’ biggest advocate. She watched over her and kept an eye on her medications and still went to high school. She was in the 4-H group Bacon Bunch, and they did a fundraiser for her mom. The community was very supportive as a whole, she said. If it weren’t for her friends, her daughter and Moffitt, she isn’t sure how she would have made it through.
Because she lost so many lymph nodes, Ms. Holmes was unable to go back to her career as a seamstress and had to learn to do something else. She chose to become a long distance truck driver and see the country. After a few years of that, she started driving locally.
Ms. Holmes had two friends who were diagnosed at the same time she was and she said both of them are gone now. Neither of them chose to go to Moffitt. “I’m just so grateful for Moffitt,” she said. “Everyone should remember, when it comes to someone’s life, it’s worth going the extra mile.”