Despite fighting metastatic cancer, Rose feeling blessed

Susan Hong, MD, left, and Verna Rose

Editor’s Note: Since this story was published, Verna Rose lost her battled with cancer.

“Truly blessed.”

That response may seem unusual from someone who is battling a rare form of cancer, but that’s how Verna Rose feels.

“My family’s support has been unbelievable,” said Rose, who more than two years ago was diagnosed with appendiceal carcinoma, a type of cancer that is so rare that it affects only about 10 people per 1 million. “My daughter (Ry AnnElise) gave up her job to take care of me. My friends are incredible. They’re all over the country and they’ll call and text daily, and pray for me. I really mean it when I say I’m blessed.”

During a visit to her hometown of Chicago during the Christmas holiday in 2016, Rose, a retired schoolteacher living in Texas, began feeling ill. Her physician initially diagnosed the malady as a sinus infection, and in spite of taking medication to rid her body of the virus, it wouldn’t go away. Not only was she experiencing sinus pain, Rose began feeling extreme discomfort in her stomach. Over the next two months she underwent “every test imaginable – CAT scans, MRI, blood tests. Doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong,” she said.

As someone who had been healthy her entire life, the 76-year-old Rose became increasingly frustrated with her declining condition. She began inquiring as to other physicians that could possibly help her regain her health. She was referred to Robert Winn, MD, director of the University of Illinois Cancer Center, and Susan Hong, MD, director the UI Cancer Center’s survivorship team. The two physicians scheduled an appointment for Rose with Michael Warso, MD, a surgical oncologist at UI Health.

Rose’s family history suggested she could one day contract cancer – her mother died of breast cancer at the age of 42, and her grandmother and aunt died of the same disease – but she didn’t believe her health problems were due to the malady. She had regular mammograms, and she showed no signs or symptoms of cancer.

Warso immediately scheduled surgery for Rose on March 13, 2017, a Friday. He asked his new patient if she was a superstitious person since the surgery was on Friday the 13th. She said even if she was, which she is not, she would rather have what was inside of her removed. It didn’t matter what day it was. Warso took out a portion of Rose’s large intestine but was unable to remove all of the disease, as the mass had become gelatinous.

Following the surgery, Rose was forced to use a colostomy bag, which hinders her movements, and has undergone several rounds of chemotherapy. Today, her disease is stable, but the cancer has sapped her strength and she is constantly fatigued.

“I don’t like sitting idle,” said Rose, who attended all of the kids’ events while they were growing up and started a not-for-profit organization in Los Angeles to feed the homeless. “I’m tired of sleeping. My spirits are up but I just can’t get moving. I make jewelry and haven’t done anything in the past few months. But no one can bring me any bad news. I’m always looking for the positive.”

Hong, Rose’s physician, can attest to that.

“Even though Verna had advanced metastatic cancer when I first saw her, she has always been so upbeat,” Hong said. “She speaks to my office at least once a week, comes in for chemotherapy every 14 days and visits my clinic every four months. She is handling her treatments well.”

“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Dr. Hong and Kristin (Andersen, RN, clinical nurse in the UI Cancer Center’s survivorship program),” Rose said. “If I have any problems or need any information all I have to do is pick up the phone and they are always there for me. They have been a godsend.”

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