Rose Donofrio-Seda, 74, has heard “you have cancer” from doctors four times in her life. The first-generation Italian from Bronx, N.Y., battled breast cancer three times and kidney cancer once since 1978.
Doctors diagnosed Seda with breast cancer the first time after a gall-bladder surgery when she was 40. At that time, she said, people didn’t know much about cancer.
“Once, at work, a little girl was too scared to come close to me because she thought she could catch my cancer,” Seda said.
A doctor removed the tumor in her breast and believed Seda was cancer-free. Her clean bill of health changed 12 years ago.
“They found out that when you had the type of tumor I had, it always grows back,” she said. “They just didn’t know much about it when I was first diagnosed.”
Seda then underwent her first mastectomy. Cynthia Gose, her daughter who works in Savannah, insisted she move to Liberty County and receive treatment at Memorial University Medical Center.
Gose and Seda’s older daughter, Regina Sarracco, were teenagers the first time doctors diagnosed their mother with breast cancer.
“It was a horror to tell them I had cancer,” Seda said. She was worried her daughters might get breast cancer, too, since it is hereditary. “I always ask God if you are going to do anything, do it to me … leave my girls alone.”
Unfortunately, Gose found out 10 years ago she had malignant melanoma.
Six months after her daughter recovered from skin cancer, doctors diagnosed Seda for the third time with cancer in her remaining breast.
“That’s when they decided I needed chemotherapy,” Seda said. She endured her second mastectomy and spent seven weeks going through chemotherapy.
After surgery, Seda walked around with a hole in her chest for three months. The wound healed and doctors performed a skin graft.
“Sometimes I don’t even think I’m talking about myself,” she said. “But you have to do what you have to do.”
All of Seda’s hair fell out during chemotherapy, including her eyebrows and eyelashes.
“I was bald, but I got a beautiful wig,” she said. “I was scared out of my mind, but I had faith that it would all work out.”
Seda said one of the hardest parts of having cancer was telling her friends and family.
“It was horrific to see my friends crumble around me,” she said.
One in 11 people were diagnosed with cancer back then, Seda said. “So I told my friends, ‘I got it, so now 11 of my friends are safe,’” she said. “I felt like I was saving them.”
Two years ago, Seda discovered she had kidney cancer after doctors treated her for diverticulitis.
“They found a calcified lump on my kidney,” she said. “So, they took out the whole kidney and threw it away.”
Seda has been in and out of Memorial University Medical Center 14 times in the past 10 years. After all her health setbacks, Seda never lost her sense of humor and always remembers to look on the bright side.
“Being in the hospital is like being at a spa,” she said. “You have wonderful people taking care of you and great food … what is there to complain about?”
When she gets a chance, she goes back to the hospital to say hello. Seda believes the support from the hospital staff is what got her through her health snag after snag. Every time she leaves the hospital, she feels like she is leaving family.
“I miss you guys,” she said to the nurses a few weeks ago during a visit to Memorial. “I don’t want to be sick again, but I miss you guys.”
Seda was medically cleared of cancer at her last checkup. Her health concerns aren’t over, though. She has been fighting a serious infection in her right arm for a few years.
She believes it is her responsibility to tell her story and help people pull through a very difficult time.
“One of the things I tell people is that cancer isn’t a walk in the park … you are going to get poked and jabbed,” she said. “But it is doable … you have to grasp it, keep your faith and have people around you who can handle it with you.”
Seda shares her cancer-survival story at churches, the hospital or with anyone who needs encouragement or advice.
“You are still the same person before and after cancer,” she said.
Although cancer didn’t change her life, she is more humble now. Personal strength pulled her through, and she tries not to feel sorry for herself.
“Self-pity isn’t going to get you anywhere,” she said. “I am not a hero. I am proof that it can be done.”