John St. Omer - Patient Story
"Finding Fox Chase was a Godsend."
— John St. Omer, Husband, Father, Runner and GIST Survivor
As the father to 4 sons with a 16 year span, and the general manager a major hospitality hotel, John St. Omer knows how to manage chaos. But managing cancer - when you don't know you have it, is another story altogether.
"No one at my local hospital ever told me I had cancer."
In the spring 2005, John passed out at his home and was taken to his local emergency room. After describing his symptoms, an endoscopy was performed. Doctors found a mass in John's stomach and performed laparoscopic surgery to remove it. According to John, his discharge instructions made no mention of cancer.In April 2007, about two years later, John's symptoms were back and so he returned to the same hospital. Doctors asked him whether he followed up with an oncologist after the initial surgery. "No one at my local hospital ever told me I had cancer," recalls John, who was confused and shocked by this news.
John learned that his original condition, called GIST (Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor), was a relatively uncommon type of cancer of the sarcoma class for which close follow-up would be warranted. John gathered that it would have been prudent to see an oncologist, especially now that his cancer had recurred. John's doctors recommended Fox Chase Cancer Center for their expertise in treating sarcomas.
"Finding Fox Chase was a Godsend."
John's first thought was to travel to New York City for treatment. But his doctors questioned, "Why wouldn't you go to Philadelphia? Fox Chase Cancer Center is one of the best cancer centers in the country and they treat a lot of sarcoma patients." Several phone calls later - John had scheduled an appointment with an oncologic surgeon at Fox Chase who specializes in treating patients with sarcomas. "Finding Fox Chase was a Godsend," explains John, who refers to these instances as "Godwinks." He researched the Center online and was confident in his decision.
"My doctor made me feel like I was his only patient," shares John. Everyone at Fox Chase made John feel welcome. "My surgeon didn't sugarcoat anything for me - he was honest and direct, which I needed." After complete removal of the GIST recurrence, John was introduced to Margaret von Mehren, MD, director of the sarcoma program at Fox Chase. She started John on an oral chemotherapy, known as Gleevec, that was the gold standard in helping prevent future recurrences. "I've remained cancer-free ever since. I had an excellent experience at Fox Chase," he shares.
John's wife, Maria, is a nurse and felt her husband's care was excellent.
John, a self-described golf and running fanatic, is thrilled with the results of his treatment. "I was able to swing a club just a couple of months after surgery," he exclaims. Since treatment, John has not only been able to swing a club, but he’s won five golf titles! Having risen to the top of his golfing endeavors, John has taken up running. He’s excelled to an 8.5 minute mile in the Broad Street Run in Philadelphia and has successfully completed three half-marathons in Philadelphia. Wanting to give back to the Fox Chase community, he continues to fund-raise each year for Jimbo’s Squad Broad Street team. (Support John and others raising money for cancer research through Jimbo’s Squad).
John recalls that until he was staring at a hospital ceiling from his bed, he really didn't appreciate how precious life and good health are. "I was completely dependent on other people to care for me," shares John, who also relied on his mother's prayers for support. "Having cancer was a humbling experience. I'm now enjoying my second lease on life with no complaints!" John and Maria are especially enjoying their growing family and their role as grandparents.