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Moffitt patient Tina Cancio with her family at her salon.

Tina Cancio says if she and her husband Carlos can get past the three C’s - cancer, COVID-19 and company, everything will be alright.

Cancio is the owner of Balance Salon Spa in Tampa, Florida. On March 26, the salon temporarily closed due to COVID-19. For weeks, she felt responsible for the lives of 13 families. Many of her staff are single parents who depend on their job to make a living. Cancio, a former single parent for nearly ten years, understands the importance of job security.

“It’s not something I take lightly,” said Cancio.

But this was not the first time Cancio was faced with anxiety. In May 2010, she was diagnosed with a blood disorder called evolving aplastic anemia. A year later, doctors determined she had large granular lymphocytic leukemia, a rare subset of chronic lymphocytic leukemia of the T cells.

“I was always on the go, like a hamster wheel, a workaholic type of a person. I was a very busy executive, traveling nearly every week for 25 years,” Cancio said.

She believes the cancer diagnosis was God’s way of making her slow down.

“I had to stop and take personal inventory of my life. My title and work were everything. I was wrapped up in my career. Cancer made me take a long, hard, real look at me, all of me,” she said. 

Cancio recalls experiencing recurrent infections and debilitating fatigue. She assumed her symptoms were related to her busy work and travel schedule. But after several months of multiple trips to her doctor, her primary care provider ordered a series of labs which ultimately lead to an appointment with a hematologist.

Cancio was referred to Dr. Lubomir Sokol at Moffitt Cancer Center.

“You never think you will hear those words; you have cancer and a very rare blood autoimmune disease,” said Cancio. “I was confused, I thought I entered the wrong room! It was surreal, as if in slow motion and I was watching from the sidelines.”

Moffitt patient Tina Cancio in her hospital bed

Tina Cancio receiving treatment at Moffitt

Cancio has undergone several treatments and procedures in the ten years since her initial diagnosis including chemotherapy, plasma exchange and 12 bone marrow biopsies. She admits every treatment yields different results and side effects. She’s experienced everything from fevers, rashes and headaches to insomnia, hair loss and mouth sores.

“I am now seen in five clinics at Moffitt including hematology, neurology, endocrinology, cardiology and pain management,” says Cancio.

Despite the challenges, Cancio is grateful for the love and support of her family. She is very proud of her children and how they’ve handled her illnesses. Her 22-year-old daughter Sera will soon graduate from the University of South Florida with a degree in social work in public health and her 17-year-old stepson Christian will start his senior year in high school in the fall.

Her biggest supporter is her mother, Sharon Bartik, whom she fondly refers to as her “she-ro.” At age 71, she helps Cancio at home, drives her to appointments and helps at the salon.

On May 12, the Cancio’s joyfully celebrated the reopening of their salon, adhering to social distancing guidelines. While Tina handles the behind the scenes operations like ordering supplies, Carlos can be seen at the spa interacting with clients. Unfortunately, Cancio spends an enormous amount of time in and out of the hospital. Her compromised immune system limits her ability to work alongside others.

Cancio says she leans on her faith to help calm her fears and overshadows her pain. “It’s never failed me and comforts me every time.”

There is no cure for her diseases, but she is committed to living her best life and is up to the fight.