Sera Snyder was 26, an avid runner working in finance and loving city life in Philadelphia, when she was diagnosed with an aggressive but little-understood Desmoid tumor. “I could never have imagined that when I went to my doctor for what I thought was a minor muscle strain in my abdomen from exercising, that my whole world would be turned upside down,” she says.
Snyder learned that Desmoids are benign but destructive enough that their odds of growing back once removed are about 50 percent, and that doctors have no idea what causes them or how to treat them. Snyder was lucky to be diagnosed: A lack of recognition among medical professionals about Desmoids tumors means many go undiagnosed, according to the Desmoid Tumor Research Foundation.
Since being diagnosed three years ago, Snyder has met more than half a dozen other women between ages 20 and 35 who are all fit and have Desmoid tumors in their abs. Though the mysterious tumors strike women between the ages of 15 and 60 more, some males are also affected. Former NFL player Kevin Reilly lost his arm and his playing career because of a Desmoid tumor.
To deal with the fear and knowledge that the tumor could return even after she had surgery to remove it, Snyder picked up running again as soon as she was able. Running helped her feel stronger and gave her time to reflect.
“My illness prompted me to ask myself questions like, ‘am I living in line with my priorities? What is my mission in life?’” Snyder says. Her answer was to find a job that might help others suffering from illness as she was herself. Pushing herself through running gave her the confidence to leave her safe job in finance, and she now works as a professional relationship manager at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. She also used her love for running to fund-raise for Desmoid’s research by founding Running for Answers.
Sera knows the odds are that her tumor will come back someday. But she credits her diagnosis with finding more purpose in her life. “It took being diagnosed with a tumor for me to discover that you can live your life with passion everyday, and make a career out of it.”