Daisy Atkins first experienced Sylvester and its lifesaving treatments as an employee, when she worked in bedside nursing at the cancer center. She even volunteered to lead her UHealth department team at the DCC. What Sylvester meant to her became deeply personal when Daisy confronted her own cancer challenge: during a routine mammogram, she glimpsed her own tumor on the screen. “I’ll never forget that experience,” she said.
Daisy underwent a bilateral mastectomy and began radiation treatment shortly afterward. “No stone is left unturned at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center in finding the correct treatment and the best strategy to manage the aftermath of cancer,” said Carmen J. Calfa, M.D., Breast Medical Oncologist and Medical Co-Director, Cancer Survivorship & Translational Behavioral Sciences.
Because Daisy’s cancer had also spread to her lymph nodes, she faced a long road to recovery. Their removal limited her use of her right side and left her unable to cook, which was one of her passions. Daisy credited ongoing support from Sylvester’s survivorship services, including regular phone calls from staff and weekly workouts with exercise physiologist Christopher Fitzmaurice, with helping her heal both physically and emotionally.
“I was so grateful to be able to mix a bowl of bread or pancake mix,” Daisy said. “This is something I fought for in physical therapy.
“To me, Sylvester is not just a name. It’s like a family member or a close friend. “I never felt alone knowing I was in the hands of Sylvester Cancer Center.”
With the belief that companionship and compassion conquers all, Daisy successfully completed the DCC’s 5K run/walk in 2020 and 2021 while still in treatment. “I never thought I would be out there with a pink tutu and pink hat, running to the finish line,” she said. “But I’m a fighter. This is what I do.”
Dr. Frank J. Penedo, Ph.D.
Associate Director, Cancer Survivorship & Translational Behavioral Sciences
For Frank Penedo, Ph.D., the DCC plays a critical role in supporting Sylvester’s evidence-based programs for cancer survivors. “We offer free exercise, art and music therapy, pastoral care and emotional support for patients and their families,” said Dr. Penedo, Sylvester Professor of Psychology & Medicine, and associate director, Cancer Survivorship & Translational Behavioral Sciences. “Those free services would not be possible without the support of DCC participants.”
As a researcher, Dr. Penedo looks at the emotional, behavioral and social issues facing cancer survivors, and uses state-of-the-art assessments to identify and address them at an early stage. “Our goal is to help patients return to their best possible lives,” he said. “Our studies show that patients who participate in Sylvester’s survivorship services can gain meaningful improvements to their quality of life.”
Every year, Dr. Penedo takes part in the DCC to celebrate the lives of Sylvester patients and families, and thank donors for their support. “It makes me proud to see everyone come together as a community,” he said. “The best part of the day is watching our patients cross the finish line, an accomplishment that symbolizes their personal cancer journeys.”Share this story