Instead of jogging on pavement, Piero Solimano runs in place in his Gulf Breeze, Florida swimming pool. He closes his eyes, imagines himself in a high-intensity soccer game and pushes his legs to eat up the fantasy turf. Solimano, 60, exercises in his pool because it’s easier on his body, which has withstood cancer four times in the past 26 years.
Solimano’s fight with the disease began in 1991 when he was diagnosed at 37 with adenoid cystic carcinoma, which affected the tearing glands of his left eye. After more than 20 years of treatment, recovery and three recurrences, Solimano came to the Metastatic Cancer Program at UF Health for a new kind of cancer treatment strategy — and a new hope for his future.
His original tumor was the size of a lime that formed behind his eye. Surgeons in Los Angeles removed it, leaving some vision impairment. Later, Solimano, and his wife, Magali, moved to Gulf Breeze, to raise their two daughters in a quieter lifestyle and to focus on more healthy living.
By 1998, the cancer spread to Solimano’s femur. The prognosis was “pretty grim,” he said, as Pensacola oncologists told him he needed surgery, and he most likely would not walk again. Solimano’s search for better options led him to UF Health Orthopaedic Surgery – Emerson in Jacksonville, where his cancerous bone was removed and replaced with a mega-prosthesis — substituting metal for the top one third of his femur.
“My recovery from that was painful and long,” said Solimano, who was born in Peru and immigrated to the U.S. when he was a teenager. “I had to learn to walk again, but I recovered beautifully.”
Ten years later, the cancer was back. This time in Solimano’s left hip, involving the muscles and the sciatic nerve, and he sought treatment from UF radiation oncologist Roi Dagan, MD ’07, medical director of the Metastatic Cancer Program at UF Health in Gainesville and the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute in Jacksonville.
“I was at my lowest point ever — almost going mad because of months of no sleep and constant pain,” he said. “I was in deep trouble, and that’s why I’m so grateful to UF Health. Dr. Dagan gathered a big team of people who proposed a radiation treatment that was very targeted.”
Dagan’s plan included aggressive, precise radiation treatments every day for two weeks to attack the three tumor sites in his hip.
“The damage to surrounding tissue was minimal, so I would say this was the best treatment option for me,” Solimano said.