Georgia family's faith tested by cancer

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The Sims of Hogansville, Georgia, are tight, woven together by a deep faith recently tested by cancer.   Doctors diagnosed 67-year old Brenda Sims in 2014 with early-stage breast cancer.

"I had a lumpectomy and radiation," Sims says. 

Sims was treated by oncologist Dr. Mahdi Taha at Cancer Treatment Centers of America.          

"It was caught early, which is key, and she's had an excellent response," Taha says.

In a way, the family almost expected this.

My aunt had breast cancer," Brenda Sims says. "My grandmother died of colon cancer."

Dr. Taha says about 5 to 10 percent of cancers are thought to be passed down through families. Still, Brenda Sims doesn't carry the gene mutation that would have raised her daughter Michelle Morris' risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Yet, in the fall of 2017, Michelle, then 44, developed back pain, and then a nagging cough. Her lung specialist couldn't figure out why.

"He said, 'Let's just do a CT scan to be sure.'” Morris remembers. "They called me in to see the results of the CT scan.  It blew me away."

The scan of her lungs had picked up something very wrong with one of Morris' kidneys.

"The doctor gave her the results that she had kidney cancer, and it had already metastasized to her lungs," Brenda Sims says.  "So, she got that result by herself, and called me."

That is when Brenda Sims called Dr. Taha.

"I felt terrible," Taha remembers.  "I immediately asked her to bring her in to be evaluated."

With that, Michelle Morris, too, became a patient at Cancer Treatment Centers of America. He was diagnosed with stage 4 renal cell carcinoma, or kidney cancer.

The family was stunned.

"Our faith is getting us through this," Brenda Sims says. "It's the only thing that is getting us through us."

And, here's where their story gets more complicated. 

Michelle's son Trevor is now also a patient at CTCA, being monitored for benign (or non-cancerous) mass on his liver. 

Their three cases do not seem to be genetically-linked, but Dr. Taha that doesn't make the uncertainty any easier.

"What is important to note is, that, if you do have an abnormal pattern with a strong family history of cancer, that you keep it on your radar and get evaluated really quickly and be on top of your medical screenings annually," Taha says.

Brenda Sims is now 5 years removed , with no sign of cancer. Michelle Morris is on a targeted therapy.

"She's doing well," Dr. Taha says.  "She's had a response to her treatment; her scans look stable.

Michelle Morris wishes had gotten her back pain and cough checked out sooner.

"Don't ignore symptoms," she says.  "Go get it checked.  Don't ignore things; you know your body."