January 22, 2015 | by Nicole White
No one ever plans to have cancer – and there’s never a good time. For Homa Sadat, her cancer came at a particularly bad time: just one year after losing her father to the pancreatic cancer he had battled for two years.
She was working a grueling schedule managing three commercial office buildings. She’d just started dating someone very promising – and her family was still mourning her father.
Sadat, now 30, was 27 when she first found a lump in her breast. She called it to her doctor’s attention, but her concerns were dismissed. She couldn’t have cancer, her doctor said. She was too young. Six months later, a shooting pain prompted her to insist on a biopsy that found breast cancer. Specifically, she had triple-negative breast cancer – the hardest type to treat, because it doesn't respond to any current targeted therapies.
Sadat considered other caregivers, but ultimately chose the Breast Cancer Program at City of Hope because of her confidence in her oncologist, George Somlo, M.D., professor in the departments of Medical Oncology and Therapeutics Research and Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation. One of Somlo’s areas of research interest is triple-negative breast cancer. Sadat volunteered for a Phase II clinical trial that combined carboplatin and a novel nano-particle drug called nab-paclitaxel. The trial called for her to undergo 16 weeks of chemotherapy before having surgery to address her cancer.
Halfway through chemotherapy regimen, she had a extremely welcome surprise.
“I went in for an ultrasound-guided biopsy, and they said there’s nothing to biopsy,” Sadat said. “They couldn’t find the tumor.”
She continued the treatment for another 8 weeks and in January of 2013, she underwent surgery at City of Hope to remove the part of her breast tissue that initially had contained the breast tumor, as well as several lymph nodes. No cancer cells were found in the removed tissues: Sadat’s cancer had gone into complete remission.
Joey Wahidi, whom she’d started dating before her diagnosis, helped her throughout her treatment, which Sadat finally completed in April 2013. Just over a year later, the couple married in an August wedding. Now they live in Irvine and hope to start a family soon.
“The idea of an exciting future with Joey and getting married to him is what encouraged me to be strong and fight this battle,” Sadat said. “He gave me hope.”
Her family was also important to her recovery. Sadat has five brothers, including a twin brother, and two sisters. She lived across from her mother’s house, and her mother would cook fresh food and bring it to her. Sadat said she is incredibly grateful for their help, support, and prayers.
“I remember waking up from sleep the day after my surgery and as I opened my eyes, I saw my brother Hamid standing over me and praying,” she said. “It was such a heartwarming moment.”
Sadat offers this advice to others confronting cancer:
Don’t think negatively. “You can’t see it as a punishment from God or ask why you’re going through this,” she said. “This whole experience has made me into a better person, a stronger person, a smarter person.”
Don’t hesitate to get a second opinion. Sadat said the first oncologist she saw showed her long lists of chemotherapy options and all of their side effects, which was overwhelming. “It freaked me out,” she said. You deserve a doctor you feel confident in and who you believe is invested in your care.
Don’t wait to have a lump checked out – even if you’re young. Sadat said she was angry for some time that she ignored her cancer for six months, and she now urges women who find an irregularity in their breast to not put off seeing a doctor, having it checked and demanding it be taken seriously – at any age.
“Eat like it’s medicine.” Sadat said that she, like many patients in chemotherapy, often did not feel like eating or drinking, but that nourishment is vital. “It’s so hard to eat,” she said. “But the times I felt very sick and the one time I threw up from the chemo was because I didn’t eat. If you don’t eat, you’re going to get sick.” She began making herself fresh juices with green vegetables and fruits.
Drinking lots of water also helped, and ginger was a comfort to her during her treatment. “Boil it in water and drink it with tea,” she suggested.
When you can manage it, pretend like you don’t have cancer. Let friends and loved ones visit. Get out of the house. “Just do it,” she said. “I would wear my wigs and go out. I would go shopping. I would try to live my life as if I didn’t have cancer.”
And one last piece of advice for those who have a friend or loved one with cancer:
Don’t ask if the patient needs anything. Just do something for them. Afraid she would burden her family – still reeling from the death of her father – Sadat was hesitant to ask for help. Friends would say all the time “Let me know if I can help,” but she was shy about asking. The friends who helped her most didn’t ask permission, like her friend who drove her to appointments and another who would just bring her food. “If I wasn’t there, she would leave it and text me.”
Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.