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A shared cancer journey brings provider and patient closer together


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Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

ST. GEORGE — Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be scary, but having a support system can help you through it. One teenage girl created an unexpected close bond with her medical provider after her diagnosis.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," Paola Zarate said.

Just over a year ago, Zarate took her teenage daughter to the emergency room in St. George for some pain in her side.

"It was very shocking because I had no symptoms leading up to it," Emma Zarate said.

But came out with the worst kind of news — Emma, 19, was diagnosed with Stage II Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"The next day, I started chemo, and that lasted all the way up through April 25 of this last year," Emma said.

It was a long year filled with treatment, but through it all she felt supported by physician assistant Ricky Tebbs.

"I felt like I could always rely on him," she said.

"My patients give me so much strength," Tebbs said. "I learn so much from them."

Tebbs has worked at Intermountain Cancer Center of St. George for 11 years. And while treating cancer patients, few know that he has been battling cancer himself, for the last 12 years.

"Usually, I don't share my cancer diagnosis with patients," he said. "I don't want to discredit what they are going through, or one-up them, or anything of that nature."

Tebbs was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2010 and has had multiple reoccurrences. Through it all, his experience has helped him become a better provider.

"Sometimes in the medical industry, we can get callous. But being a patient myself, I try so hard to not be callous and treat people the way I would want to be treated," he said.

Emma Zarate wasn't aware of Tebbs' diagnosis up until a few weeks ago. She found out when the two were honored at The Las Vegas Raiders game, recognizing the importance of early cancer detection. It was a moment neither of them will ever forget.

"My cancer journey has been so hard on me, on my family, and being able to share that with Emma was such a special experience," Tebbs said.

And Tebbs' support, Emma Zarate said, is something she will never forget.

"It was really hard for me, so for him to go through it and still help other patients, it was really humbling," she said.

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Ayanna Likens
Ayanna Likens is an Emmy award-winning special projects reporter for KSL-TV.

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