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Young doctor who discovered her own cancer highlights the importance of getting screened

Dr. Lauren Juyia, a gynecologist, suspected something was amiss when she started feeling 'pelvic heaviness' in August 2022.

Young doctor who discovered her own cancer highlights the importance of getting screened
Cover Image Source: HCA Florida Healthcare

A Florida doctor who discovered her own cancer in 2022 is now encouraging others to get a cancer screening if they notice anything unusual. When Dr. Lauren Juyia, a gynecologist at Elite Women's Care in Brooksville, Florida, and Clearwater, Florida, started feeling "pelvic heaviness" in August 2022, she went to get an ultrasound at HCA Florida Oak Hill Hospital.

Juyia told Good Morning America that she had not noticed anything extraordinary until she started feeling a "pelvic mass." According to Tampa General Hospital, a pelvic mass is defined as any noncancerous or cancerous growth that originates in the cervix, an ovary, the uterus or a surrounding structure in the lower abdomen. Although many women develop pelvic mass at some point in their lives, several go undetected.

Juyia's ultrasound confirmed that she had larger-than-normal masses near her ovary. She then decided to consult doctors for a professional opinion because, in two weeks, the pelvic mass grew in size, expanding 8 centimeters to about 24 centimeters. "Having a background in obstetrics, we describe size by weeks of pregnancy and so I was like, 'Oh my god, I have a 16-week-size mass.' From experience, I could tell that this was my ovary," the 38-year-old recalled. "I had never seen anything benign, meaning not cancer, grow that fast before. So we kind of knew, deep down, that this was not going to be good. And we suspected ovarian cancer, of course, because it was the ovaries being the masses."



 

Juyia later discovered that she had stage 4 colon cancer, and in September 2022, she underwent surgery to remove the masses that spread to her ovaries, uterus, omentum, appendix and abdominal area.

"I did have a little bit of fatigue. I was a little tired in the afternoon for about two months previous to this and as a mom with two little kids -- I had been recently nursing them, they were still waking up in the night, and I work full time -- I didn't think anything of saying, 'Oh, I think I need a tea in the afternoon.' Whereas maybe someone in their 50s or 60s would be much more tired from stage 4 tumors taking up their energy," Juyia said.



 

The mom of two then started six months of chemotherapy treatments with Dr. David Wenk, an oncologist at Florida Cancer Specialists. Juyia also worked during her cancer treatments because it took her mind off things. "For me, it was therapeutic to get to still be useful to my patients," she said. "When I am with someone in a patient room, I forgot I was ill. Even nausea, I wouldn't feel it for that 15-20 minutes. So for me, it was most important to try to have a normal life and try to continue to be useful."

Juyia, who shares a 6-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son with her husband, Dr. Rushad Juyia—a spine and sports medicine physician—expressed gratitude for the care and support she's received from her medical team and community of family and friends.



 

Juyia underwent one more surgery in late March 2023 to remove an inactive tumor, and so far, there has been "no evidence of disease." Today, she encourages others—especially those under the CDC-recommended age of 45—to get a colon cancer screening if they suspect anything is amiss.

"People that are younger than the screening age should still be paying attention to our symptoms because we're not eligible for screening usually. We might not have any symptoms because we are young, and our bodies are more resilient. We can tolerate more symptoms," Juyia said. "We just need to be aware if we're not lucky enough to be in the range where we should be screened. And if you are in the range that you should be screened, take advantage of that. Don't squander that opportunity. There's a reason we want to screen you and keep you safe."

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