Tania Stutman - Patient Story

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"Dr. von Mehren is truly amazing."

— Tania Stutman

In the spring of 1949, Tania Stutman entered the world in Haifa, Israel. Her mother was a Holocaust survivor who escaped to Israel. Tania spent much of her childhood in Romania before she immigrated to America. “Our family has had our share of difficulties,” recalls Tania, who lost her sister in 1985 when an Arrow Air plane crashed in Gender, Newfoundland, on its way back to the U.S. So when she learned she had cancer, Tania approached it as just another challenge.

“My parents were survivors, so it’s natural that I am too,” says Tania, who resides in New City, New York, not far from Manhattan.

In 1998, Tania underwent an emergency hysterectomy because her doctor noticed a suspicious growth on her ovary. During the surgery, doctors were surprised to see something on her small bowel. He made a phone call to consult with a colleague and performed a resection of the small bowel. Before she left the hospital, Tania learned that she had a rare cancer, most likely leiomyosarcoma. She was advised by her doctors Tania to “get her things in order” because she had one year to live.

But Tania and her husband, Robert, were not ready to give up. She consulted with physicians at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City. That is where Tania was diagnosed with a rare gastrointestinal cancer called GIST (Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor). Unfortunately, the tumor had spread to her liver. While there was no treatment available at the time, Tania’s doctor and husband began to search for clinical trials for GIST.

During this time, Tania celebrated her 50th birthday. “I was just so grateful to be alive,” she shares. “My friends and family threw me an incredible surprise party to celebrate my life.”

In 2000, the Stutmans learned about a new clinical trial that was evaluating the use of Gleevec, which had been proven to treat leukemia, in GIST patients. The phase II trial was offered at a limited number of institutions, including Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.

“Once I found out there was a new treatment, nothing would stop me. Not even a two hour ride to Philadelphia,” admits Tania. She met with Margaret von Mehren, MD, a medical oncologist who specializes in treating patients with GIST. She was also the principal investigator of the trial.

After medical evaluations, Tania was thrilled to learn she was eligible to enroll in the trial. “I was one of the earliest patients in the United States to enroll in this phase of the Gleevec trial,” explains Tania, whose tumors responded to the treatment. “Dr. von Mehren is truly amazing. I don’t know that I’d be here if it weren’t this trial and her dedication to her patients.”

Tania has remained on Gleevec ever since, however, although it worked for Tania, the drug does not work for everyone with GIST and some cancers become resistant to the drug after a period of time. “That is why fundraising to support research is so important,” adds Tania, who spearheads a foundation to advance research called the GIST Cancer Research Fund. Since her first gift in 2002, the Stutmans have raised more than $8 million for ongoing GIST research, of which $1,225,000 that has been donated to research at Fox Chase.

In addition to her fundraising efforts, Tania enjoys spending time with her daughters, Shawn and Beth, and her five grandchildren (Tyler, Ashley, Olivia, Jamie, Chase), who live nearby. “I truly enjoy spending time with everyone in my family,” Tania beams. “Whether we go out for dinner and a movie, bowling, sleepovers – you name it! They are the fix of the day!”

“I am grateful to Dr. von Mehren at Fox Chase and to my many supporters who have helped us reach this point. I won’t give up until we find a cure.”

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