A life-threatening diagnosis led Gainesville pediatrician Dr. Samantha Bacchus to a group of women she later would become closer to than she initially thought.
Bacchus knew something was wrong with her body after her endometriosis and fibroids worsened, causing severe pelvic pain, nausea, coughing, and new symptoms of cysts and itching.
Bacchus was misdiagnosed several times, and three gynecologists looked at her ultrasound report but didn’t see a reason to worry.
The coughing persisted, so she received a chest x-ray that came out abnormal, showing fluid in her lungs.
“I’m thinking, okay, so I got some fluid in my lungs,” said Bacchus in an interview. “It’s pneumonia. I need stronger antibiotics, and my doctor told me, ‘No, you’re going to the emergency room, and they’re going to figure out what’s going on with you.'”
On June 13, 2014, a Friday afternoon, Bacchus was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer.
“My gosh,” she said. “I had over a liter of fluid in my lungs. This was literally a week after I saw the gynecologist who told me that my problems were not gynecologic.”
Nearly a week after her diagnosis, she underwent surgery for a complete hysterectomy, when doctors removed her fallopian tubes, ovaries, uterus, and cervix. She received chemotherapy for six months.
Everything seemed to be going in the right direction for roughly 15 months until the cancer reappeared two years later in 2016. Bacchus had a second surgery and another six months of chemotherapy.
Since then, she has been cancer free and healthy.
Bacchus’s battle with ovarian cancer led her to the Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation (SROCF) after her new gynecologist suggested meeting with the group to receive support during her battle.
She reached out to one of the SROCF founders, Robin Cohen, in March 2015. The two met in Washington, D.C., when foundation members were advocating for funds on Capitol Hill.
“It took a little time for me to get there,” Bacchus said. “I’ve been doing that since 2015. This is the first year I’m not going to do it because I’m back to work full time.”
SROCF began after Sandy Rollman, 32, lost her life to ovarian cancer in 2000. Her sister, Adriana Way, and her oncology nurse, Cohen, started the SROCF in Sandy’s memory over 20 years ago to help prevent other women from going through what Sandy did.
The first Sandy Sprint 5K began over 20 years ago in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Bacchus participated in the Philadelphia-based event nearly every year, even when she moved to Gainesville five years ago.
“When I came to Gainesville, I realized there is such a need for having the awareness and support for women in this area,” Bacchus said. “I reached out to other board members and pitched the idea of bringing SROCF to Florida. So, now I am the SROCF organizer for Gainesville.”
Bacchus and other board members launched the first Sandy Sprit 5K event last year, bringing 120 walkers together for an afternoon.
The second annual Sandy Sprint 5K is scheduled to return on March 25 from 9:30 to 11 a.m. at Prancing Horse Farm (28515 NW 46th Ave.).
“This year, we hope to get around 200 runners, especially since we are featuring a story-sharing moment after the walk that I think will be special for all participants,” she said.
Bacchus says her favorite part of the event and foundation is the incredible women supporting one another through good times and bad.
She attributes the success throughout the years to the foundation’s mission—to fight for those who are fighting, speak for those who have fallen silent and provide for those working towards the end of ovarian cancer.
“The conversations we have aren’t meant to scare women, but more to understand when something is wrong and how to advocate for yourself,” she said.
The storytelling portion of the day is brand new and is being sponsored by GSK and The Moth. It is a moment for people to share stories of themselves or loved ones who have had cancer or are currently in the battle, and it allows the public to educate themselves on the body and disease.
“It is very valuable for me personally,” Bacchus said. “I never thought I would have cancer. I am a physician, and I have no history of cancer in my family, yet I had misdiagnosed symptoms. It is a great opportunity for women to learn, understand and feel at ease with their bodies, especially because they have a difficult time going to the doctor to talk about their bodies.”
Registration fees are $30 for adults, $25 for children under 12, and $35 for virtual participants.
The schedule or event is as follows:
- 7 a.m. – Sponsor and vendor setup
- 8 a.m. – Registration begins
- 9 a.m. – Speakers, National Anthem, and Survivor Photo
- 9:30 a.m. – 5K run/walk begins; GSK Storytelling Event to follow