Annette's story

Cancer Patient

Annette Swain-Leo has been living with Stage 4 liver cancer since 2008. She credits God, her cancer care team, an amazing little pill called Nexavar and the love of family and friends for keeping her around so long. She’s without a doubt making the most out of life, even with cancer.

Annette Swain-Leo

It won't take my grace.

She calls herself an anomaly.

“I’m supposed to be dead,” Annette Swain-Leo states, matter-of-factly. And by all accounts, she’s probably right. Annette was diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer in August 2008.

She had been having digestive issues. “I figured I was just not taking care of myself, not eating right and pushing myself too hard,” she said. She was getting ready to turn 60, so Annette scheduled a colonoscopy and a few other screenings.

A blood test came back “funky” as she calls it and her gastroenterologist, Dr. Stefan Marcuard, told her she needed an MRI. The MRI showed a growth in her liver. Her care was transferred to Dr. Emmanuel Zervos, a surgical oncologist at Vidant Medical Center.

Dr. Zervos performed a liver resection – basically removing 1/3 of Annette’s liver and the cancer that was living there. The surgery was a huge success and for 10 months, “I was good to go,” Annette said. “I was considered cancer free. My check-up were fine and everything seemed normal.”

Then came the stomach pains.

"Fear plays a big factor in your life when you are beating cancer," Annette said. She knew the stomach pains probably were not a good sign. She was right.

The cancer had returned, and this time Annette was treated with a radiofrequency ablation. “They basically zeroed in on the tumor and zapped it,” she said. This time, the procedure was not as successful. The tumor is still there. “It’s little, itty bitty, but it’s still there,” Annette said.

Under the care of medical oncologist Dr. Pamela Lepera, Annette started taking a pill form of chemotherapy. It’s called Nexavar and she’s been on it for more than 4 years.In most cases, she’s been told, the drug is only effective for about 2.5 years.

“I go from check up to check up and see how my numbers are doing,” Annette said. “I actually feel like I have gotten an easy ride. I hear horrific cancer stories, but I have never had anything but my pill, one surgery and the ablation."

The most difficult part of her journey has been taking a step back and letting people help.

“We worry about our families more than we worry about ourselves,” Annette said. “My mom is 94. She insisted on being at the hospital when I had my surgery. She told the doctors I was hard-headed. They told her that might be what got me through.”

Annette just tells everyone that “God is not through with me yet.”

“I’ve had an awful lot of love from God and my family and excellent, excellent medical care,” she said. “We are so fortunate to live in Greenville.”

The cancer survivorship and support programs offered in the area are a true blessing, Annette said.

“We have people that regularly come to the meetings that are cancer free,” she said. “You never really trust that – being cancer free. You never feel at ease. And your family sometimes doesn’t want to talk about your cancer because they don’t want to think about it.”

At support group, she said, no topic is off limits. “We laugh. We cry. We joke about our hair falling out. We can be open there.”

(Photos taken at the McConnell-Raab Hope Lodge. For more information on this facility please visit their page on the American Cancer Society Website. )

Annette Swain-Leo
Cancer Patient