Employees at White Sands Missile Range’s McAfee U.S. Army Health Clinic showed their support for a WSMR employee who was diagnosed with rare neuroendocrine tumors by commemorating Carcinoid Awareness Day Nov. 10.
In support of WSMR’s Army Community Services employee Anna Maria Vestal, McAfee employees opted out of their military uniforms and chose to wear white and black, the colors most commonly associated with this type of cancer.
“Ms. Vestal brought it to our attention and because she’s always there to help us, we wanted to show our support,” said McAfee Deputy Commander for Nursing Maj. Katie Rivera.
Rivera said that aside from showing their support through their clothing they will also be putting out information through social media and other outlets in order to be able to get the word out on the rare disease.
According to the carcinoid.org website, five out of 100,000 people are diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumors. Of those that are diagnosed, 60 percent are in an advanced stage because symptoms are so similar to other common conditions. Vestal, who was diagnosed in October 2013, falls into the 60 percent category. Vestal believes she went undiagnosed for at least 10 to 15 years. Certain symptoms like skin cracking all over, a variance of high and low blood pressure, fainting spells, shortness of breath, and an erratic heartbeat are all common symptoms of the rare cancer. Vestal had been seeing a pulmonologist for 10 years who she said dismissed what he saw in her lung as effects from past episodes of bronchitis.
“I want people to start learning about this illness. If you have symptoms that the doctor can’t figure out then mention the rare disease and be tested for it,” Vestal said.
Vestal’s cancer is located in the lungs but neuroendocrine cancer can be found anywhere.
“Very few start in the lungs,” Vestal said.
Known celebrities like Steve Jobs, who was diagnosed with pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer, and Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s, who was diagnosed with the cancer in his liver, have died from the disease. If caught early, most of the time the tumors can be removed through surgery.
“It is a slow growing cancer because it’s often misdiagnosed,” Vestal said.
Because of Vestal’s advanced stage she is currently on a medication that she takes once a month in hopes that it will reduce the tumor and stop the progression. She said she doesn’t qualify for radiation and chemotherapy is least effective for this type of cancer. Since chemotherapy is not an option for this type of cancer, Vestal said she doesn’t “look” like she has cancer and is often questioned about her health. Currently, it is unknown what the causes are for this type of cancer but stress plays a major role.
Vestal is optimistic that the medication will do what it is intended for and wants to make sure she raises awareness for this type of rare cancer that often goes undetected. On Nov. 14 Vestal and a couple of WSMR employees participated in a Lung Force 3K Walk in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they raised over $300.
“I started exercising and walking. Whatever lung capacity I still have I want to keep it healthy,” Vestal said.
According to Vestal, she is one of two people who have been diagnosed with the rare cancer in the lungs in all of New Mexico.
For more information visit www.carcinoid.org