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Patient Stories

Dina: Melanoma Survivor

Dina: Melanoma Survivor
Dina Lynn Sienkiewicz

Dedicated to helping others

Admittedly, Dina Lynn Sienkiewicz was a terrible patient. “I worried. I panicked. I was an emotional disaster. I put all of my nurses and caretakers through the ringer, but it was Dr. Mario Sznol who got through to me. His emotional support and great sense of humor, and simply, his willingness to explain where I am today with this disease and where I will go in the future—it carried me through this experience.”

In the fall of 2010, Dina was diagnosed with Stage 4 Mucosal Melanoma, with the primary tumor residing in her rectum and metastases near her stomach, kidney, liver, and heart. Before her diagnosis, Dina was an active person who enjoyed playing tennis and going to the gym, but she noticed she was becoming unusually tired at work and had no energy when she got home. She worked long hours managing a small office and initially chalked these symptoms up to stress and her day-to-day routine at work. But after experiencing rectal bleeding, she decided to see a local gastroenterologist. After a diagnosis of melanoma, Dina was referred to a surgeon and local oncologist but given the seriousness of her condition and research she had done on her own, Dina requested a referral to Smilow Cancer Hospital and Dr. Mario Sznol.

After confirming her cancer diagnosis, Dr. Sznol explained the severity of her condition to Dina. He suggested she join a clinical trial that offered a combined immunotherapy, which at the time was a very new therapy. In February 2011, Dina joined the trial, but was stopped after 13 days due to an adverse reaction. After a few months had passed, Dina went to her first post-treatment scan appointment with low expectations given the short time she was on the immunotherapies. To her surprise, the results revealed that Dina’s tumor and metastases had disappeared. Dina was declared cancer-free and would remain so for the next few years.

Exactly three years later, in April 2014 at an appointment for a 3-month scan, a gastric mass was found in Dina’s stomach. At her insistence, Dr. Sznol agreed to re-enroll Dina into the same clinical trial she was in previously. In June, Dina began the combination therapy again, and while she experienced rashes and nausea, this time she was able to complete the infusion protocol. The therapy was again successful; Her stomach mass disappeared. For the next year, Dina continued a single therapy for maintenance.

“I was very blessed,” says Dina. “It (the rashes and nausea) was a small price to pay. Even in the year of taking the single therapy, I never had to change my lifestyle and found the therapy to be very tolerable. In the end, it was so well worth it, and the care I received at Smilow was phenomenal.”

After a clean scan in August 2014, Dina was advised to return to Smilow quarterly for scans, and now five years later, she only has scans twice a year. From her first day at Smilow Cancer Hospital, Dina instilled her trust in Dr. Sznol and his team one hundred percent and she has never looked back.

“Dr. Sznol impacted my life in every way. I was absolutely confident he would know what to do. Dr. Sznol is an incredible human being and a professional, and he knew how to treat me as a whole.”

Now retired, Dina splits her time between Connecticut and Florida, and finds purpose in helping other patients with Mucosal Melanoma. After her first clean scan in 2011, a nurse asked if she would mind talking with another patient who was reluctant to join the clinical trial which had worked so well for her. Dina agreed, and she has continued to support other patients and their family members in the years since. “If I can help one person, it is worth it.”