In January 2021, after being in remission from melanoma for almost a decade, Christina Armendariz began to feel unwell.
The 42-year-old mother went to the emergency room at a hospital near her Orlando, Florida, home. After several imaging tests, Christina was told her cancer had returned. She had a mass under her arm and multiple soft tissue tumors throughout her body.
Although she began treatment locally, Christina’s condition worsened over time. She experienced significant cognitive and physical decline. Local physicians thought she had developed Parkinson’s, but Christina knew otherwise. Recognizing the need for more comprehensive care, the family contacted Mayo Clinic.
In July 2021, Christina met with Dr. Sebastian Lopez, a Mayo Clinic neurologist, who diagnosed her with with encephalitis, a type of brain inflammation.
“He took the wheel, and everything got taken care of so quickly,” recalls Christina, noting that Dr. Lopez rallied colleagues from Mayo Clinic’s Comprehensive Cancer Center who were experts in melanoma care.
Watch: Christina’s story
Journalists: Broadcast-quality video (3:12) is in the downloads at the end of this post. Please courtesy: “Mayo Clinic News Network.“
Her team, which included Dr. Roxana Dronca, a Mayo Clinic oncologist, and Dr. James Jakub, a Mayo Clinic surgical oncologist, developed an individualized care plan to address Christina’s recurrence and help her regain neurologic function.
By December, Christina showed improvement, so Dr. Jakub did what Christina had been previously told was impossible – he removed the mass under her arm. He also performed a lymphovenous bypass to limit any future issues.
“I was originally told I might need to be on chemo for the rest of my life. This surgery made it possible for me to avoid that,” says Christina, adding that she continues to have quarterly scans and is proactive about any skin changes.
Although she still battles with some long-term deficits, she has embraced a new chapter in her life.
“I’m improving every day. I’m finally able to go and enjoy time with my family, to be a mom. And I’m cancer-free.”
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