Florence Arya was on top of the world.
Newly retired from a rewarding career as a geologist, eager to travel with her husband and seemingly healthy, she was stunned when a well-woman exam in 2004 revealed she had a rare form of uterine cancer.
"I was in the best shape of my life, exercising 11-1/2 hours a week," she recalls. "Then suddenly, I'm dying. I have a death sentence."
Then 57, Arya was diagnosed with stage III uterine papillary serous carcinoma, an aggressive type that accounts for less than 15% of endometrial cancers.
Arya, who was postmenopausal, had experienced some vaginal bleeding, but hadn't been too concerned about it.
Her treatment consisted of a complete hysterectomy, five weeks of radiation and five sessions of chemotherapy.
Seven years later, Arya is immensely grateful for her recovery and quick to give credit where it's due. "I couldn't have made it without my angel of a husband and Dr. Karen Lu -- and exercise," she laughs. Lu is a professor in the Department of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine at MD Anderson.
Arya goes to Jazzercise® classes six days a week. "Even during the worst of treatment, I found it uplifting," she says.
Always there for others
Arya is Anderson Network's Telephone Networker of the Year for 2011. She has spoken to hundreds of patients, giving support, comfort and encouragement. She is also involved with the Cancer Survivorship Conference.
"I volunteer because I couldn't find anybody like me when I was first diagnosed. I was told, 'There's nobody alive with this type of cancer.' It was terrifying," she says.
"I have an incredible need to know. I wanted to find out all I could about the disease."
Finally, she found someone -- a teacher in Tennessee -- who gave her good advice. "She shared so much," Arya says. "Unfortunately, she had a recurrence, and I lost her."
Arya is also part of the Specialized Programs of Research Excellence grant in endometrial cancer and helps with a monthly endometrial cancer support group at MD Anderson.
Today, life is good for Arya, who adores spending time with her family, including a stepson, his wife and toddler daughter.
She feels especially lucky to be there for her husband, who has a hearing loss.
"I'm my sweet husband's ears. He hears me best," she says.