For this year's Pan-Mass Challenge, Bergmeyer President Rachel Zsembery was asked to share her personal journey with cancer with her fellow cyclists. An essential takeaway from her experience is the importance of trusting your instincts and self-advocating for healthcare concerns. Below we have shared excerpts from Rachel’s message to the PMC community.
When I was expecting my son, I noticed a small spot on my cheek that didn’t look right to me. I made an appointment with my Doctor, who assured me it was nothing. I asked to see a dermatologist who poked around my face a bit, patted me on the hand, and told me I was healthy, hormonal, and that it was nothing. While I didn’t feel that it was “nothing,” I wanted to focus on what had been a challenging pregnancy and decided to let it go for the time being.
A few months after welcoming my beautiful son Spencer, I asked to see a different dermatologist who similarly dismissed my concerns. However, my search for a new doctor was soon put on hold as we noticed an odd and sudden change in one of my son's eyes.
Fortunately, a dear friend who is an ER pediatric physician took one look at a photo I texted her and instructed us to head right to the emergency room with the words – "Trust your instincts. Something is wrong."
After several days of tests across three different hospitals – with each doctor starting the exam by telling us our baby looked healthy and happy and ending with "but something seems wrong. My instinct is to keep testing," we finally had a diagnosis. My 5-month-old baby had Neuroblastoma, a pediatric cancer. The canary in the coal mine was the tumor growing out of the nerve that controlled his eye function. Spencer received incredible care from his surgeons, his oncology team, his nurses, and support specialists.
I spent the next year and a half spending every free moment I had working on his recovery. During this time I was so thankful to have the support of my family, friends, and my incredible colleagues at Bergmeyer. Finally, coming out from the fog in the aftermath of my son’s health crisis, I decided to take control of my own health.
I found a new primary care doctor affiliated with the hospital where my son received such excellent care who assured me that she could refer me to a dermatologist who would take me seriously. That doctor took one look at what the others had so summarily dismissed and told me I had cancer and that they would need to remove it immediately. The biopsy soon confirmed his diagnosis, and I was in for surgery within weeks.
Today, my son, who is now eight years old, and I are both healthy and showing no evidence of cancer in our regular monitoring.
Over the three years that I have been part of the PMC, I have met so many people who said that their journey with cancer has been chasing down something that just didn’t seem right – in trusting their instincts.
In a world where women are continuing to lose more and more agency over their healthcare rights, it’s important for us all to remember to trust our instincts, demand to be taken seriously, and advocate for ourselves and for our others through participating in raising awareness through events like the Pan-Mass Challenge.
I am so thankful to be a part of the PMC Community and appreciate being given the opportunity to share my experience.