For the media

Making the most of life after a cancer diagnosis

By The Health News Team | June 2, 2023
Anita Sadik of San Diego

After beating cancer, Anita is not taking her health, happiness and support from loved ones for granted.

When you reflect on your 20s, what do you remember? Was it the excitement that came with travel, the belly laughs you shared with loved ones, or was it the pride you had in growing your career?

For San Diego resident Anita Sadik, her 20s were very different: They were marked by a diagnosis she never saw coming.

In October 2019, Anita, an esthetician, opened a beauty business. Shortly after, a variety of physical symptoms emerged, including what felt to her like nearly every allergy or cold symptom under the sun.

What Anita thought would be 3-week stretch of mild sickness turned into months of illness, progressively getting worse. And a series of doctor’s visits always resulted in the same diagnosis: severe allergies to her environment.

Amid the scary and unexplainable, there was a bright spot: Anita learned she was pregnant with a baby girl. But as her body changed with her pregnancy, Anita also experienced more concerning changes. Two massive lumps formed on each side of her throat.

Coping with an impacted ability to hear, loss of taste and a burning sensation in her throat, Anita knew something wasn’t right — and it was more than seasonal allergies or reactions to her pets. One evening, the pain became so intense that she woke in the middle of the night, choking and coughing up blood.

“I had to listen to my body when it was telling me that something was very wrong,” Anita says.

Persistence was key

After repeated hospital visits, Anita experienced a serious cough attack during an emergency room visit. An emergency ultrasound was ordered, followed by a referral for the next day to an ear nose and throat (ENT) specialist. “Even 30 seconds into that ENT appointment, the doctor knew there was a serious issue,” she says.

After a biopsy of the mass in Anita's nasopharynx (the upper part of the throat behind the nose) was performed, she received a phone call that would change her life: Anita had stage 3 squamous cell carcinoma of the nasopharynx, a type of cancer that effects the area connecting the nasal passages to the respiratory system.

“In a way, I was relieved to know what it was,” Anita says. “I knew all along my body was trying to tell me something, we just had to figure out what it was.”

Next came action.

A lot to live for

At the time of her diagnosis, Anita knew she’d be welcoming her baby girl in a matter of weeks. “I didn’t think I’d live long enough to see my daughter — I just didn’t think I’d make it,” she says.

Upon learning of the urgency to begin treatment right away, Anita, her family and care team agreed that there was no time to waste. Dr. Kelly DeWitt, a radiation oncologist at Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s David & Donna Long Cancer Center, oversaw Anita’s radiation therapy. She knew how critical receiving immediate treatment was for Anita.

“Nasopharyngeal carcinomas are very curable, even in more advanced stages like Anita’s, but only if patients can complete a 6 1/2-week course of chemotherapy and radiation,” Dr. DeWitt says. “Without this treatment, the tumor is fatal.”

Knowing what she had to live for — the birth of her daughter — Anita was determined to regain her health.

Working together to heal

After closely coordinating with her OBGYN, Anita had an emergency cesarean section only 5 days after the biopsy was done and 1 day after learning her diagnosis. Time truly was of the essence to ensure the health of mom and baby.

Anita’s daughter, Nova, entered the world at 34 weeks of pregnancy in September 2021.

Immediately after delivery, Anita began working with her care team to receive the treatment necessary on her journey to being cancer-free. She began multiple cycles of high-dose chemotherapy and radiation treatments only 7 days after delivering her daughter.

Anita Sadik of San Diego at Sharp Grossmont Hospital

Anita undergoes cancer treatment at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

“There were so many times I could have given up,” shares Anita. “I was encouraged by loved ones and my medical team to keep going. I knew I had to keep going.”

“On our side in radiation oncology, I work with a physicist and dosimetrist [medical expert in radiation oncology] to develop a radiation treatment plan,” Dr. DeWitt says. “In the clinic, there is a team of nurses, a nurse navigator, a dietician and a social worker who work with the patient to identify and address needs. The patient's support at home is equally as important to help with skin care regimens, gastrostomy tube feedings and pain control regimens. It takes a team to support a patient through this treatment.”

Taking steps toward normalcy

Documenting her journey on social media allowed Anita to share her experiences with loved ones, as well as to encourage readers to take charge of their health. Not only did this help Anita feel the support and love from so many, but her social media posts also helped others too.

“Friends keeping up with my journey shared that I was the reason they went to their doctor to address some of their health concerns,” Anita says. “That meant so much to know.”

Dr. Igor Medic, an oncologist at Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s David & Donna Long Cancer Center who also cared for Anita, emphasizes the importance of seeking care as Anita did.

“Patients should seek additional medical attention if symptoms that seem common persist,” Dr. Medic says. “If the symptoms do not resolve themselves after a few weeks or keep getting worse like in Anita’s case, additional exams and screenings should be performed to get to the root of the issue.”

In an effort to maintain a sense of normalcy, Anita continued to see her regular, long-term beauty clients on days that her body felt up to it. Anita’s boyfriend and sister would bring her feeding tube machine — necessary during treatment to ensure she received adequate nutrition — to her workstation in her home and set up all of her supplies, allowing her to focus on her work and connection with her clients.

“I wasn’t working because of the money,” Anita says. “Continuing to work allowed me to feel normal and motivated me to keep going on days where I didn’t know if I could make it through.”

Living a full life

After several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, cushioned by the day-to-day comforts of work and encouragement from friends and family, Anita finally learned she was cancer-free in April 2022.

Now more than a year later, Anita is not taking her health, happiness and support from loved ones for granted.

“I’m rebuilding my life with love, care and intention,” Anita says. “I’ve opened my first commercial property, Legendary House of Beauty, that I am so proud of. I’m spending more time with family. I’m making time now for the things that matter most. I’ve learned that you just never know what’s next, which motivates me to enjoy my life to the fullest.”

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