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Racing toward good health

By The Health News Team | March 13, 2024
Rosa Garrett at the Rock ‘n’ Roll 10 kilometers in Las Vegas.

Rosa Garrett recently ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll 10 kilometers in Las Vegas.

Four hours and 27 minutes: That’s how long it took Rosa Garrett to finish the 125th Boston Marathon on Oct. 11, 2021. Exactly one year later, Rosa finished her fourth and final chemotherapy treatment for colon cancer. She had received the cancer diagnosis just five months earlier.

“Baffling”, “shocking” and “disbelief” are just a few of the words Rosa uses to describe learning about the 4.7 centimeter tumor her doctor found in her ascending colon during a colonoscopy.

Rosa, a clinical resource coordinator at Sharp HealthCare, says she’s fairly attuned to her body. The mom and grandmother of two was running 20 to 25 miles per week before her diagnosis — which she received around the same time she learned she qualified for the iconic New York City Marathon, an extraordinary athletic achievement.

A lifelong runner for the physical and mental health benefits, Rosa never considered running a marathon until her 30s. She was inspired by her older brother, who had died of lung cancer at age 43.

“When he died, he had three marathon medals in his house: one for each of his daughters, the third for our dad,” Rosa says. “That’s something you cannot buy — you have to earn it — and I want to do the same for those important people in my own life.”

She now has more than 60 medals hanging on her wall.

A surprising diagnosis and successful treatment

Rosa’s mother died of breast cancer at the age of 53. But Rosa was told neither her brother’s nor her mom’s diagnoses increased the likelihood of developing cancer herself. She also had a negative FIT (Fecal Immunochemical Test), which screens for blood in a stool sample, less than two years earlier and never imagined her stomach pains could be something serious.

After unsuccessfully trying to troubleshoot the pains with dietary changes, her doctor recommended she take another FIT test, just to ensure everything was OK. It wasn’t — the test was positive.

Rosa then had a colonoscopy, an exam of the large intestine using an endoscope — a lighted, flexible tube that can find cancer as well as precancerous growths. She was shocked to learn a golf ball-sized tumor was discovered in her ascending colon.

However, shortly after and to Rosa’s great relief, a computed tomography scan (CT scan), a medical imaging technique used to obtain detailed internal images of the body, showed that the cancer had not spread to other organs. Additionally, Dr. Pamela Lee, a surgeon with Sharp Rees-Stealy and affiliated with Sharp Memorial Hospital, was able to successfully remove the tumor, half of her colon and a few lymph nodes using robotic surgery.

“Rosa was an active person, and getting back to her marathons was so important to her,” says Dr. Lee. “With robotic surgery, we were able to return her to her normal life sooner and with less pain.”

Finding strength for a new kind of challenge

However, Rosa’s journey was not yet over. For the next 12 weeks, she would have to endure four sessions of chemotherapy. While she was vastly familiar with the mental and physical challenges of training for a marathon, she didn’t know how to prepare for the difficult weeks ahead.

“My loved ones; my Sharp care team, including my nurse patient navigators; as well as former colleagues really helped get me through,” Rosa says.

Rosa completed her chemotherapy in fall 2022. During a check-up in June 2023, she asked her Sharp Rees-Stealy oncologist Dr. Andrew Hampshire, who is affiliated with Sharp Memorial, about getting a breast MRI based upon her strong family history of cancer.

“Since I turned 35, I got an annual mammogram, and about half the time afterwards, I was asked to get more tests like an ultrasound and a biopsy,” she says.

Within a few days, Dr. Hampshire called Rosa to say her MRI results showed signs of breast cancer.

Recovery after another surprising diagnosis

Rosa was shocked. She had had no symptoms but was glad that she was proactive by getting a screening.

In September 2023, she received a bilateral mastectomy from Dr. Mohan Krishnamoorthy, a Sharp Rees-Stealy surgeon affiliated with Sharp Memorial. The procedure found that Rosa had invasive lobular carcinoma, in which cancer starts in the breasts’ lobules.

Currently, Rosa is receiving chemotherapy. She will later begin hormone therapy, taking medicine to help prevent the breast cancer from returning.

Rosa is also looking forward to running more marathons. Recently, she ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll 10 K in Las Vegas.

“I found similarities between cancer treatment and training for races," Rosa says. "You just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and not quit."

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