When Cathy Tompkins complained of an unusual pain near her sternum,
doctors took an X-ray and told her she was likely constipated. When
her pain persisted and a second X-ray didn’t indicate what was wrong,
a friend urged her to seek a second opinion.
Cathy got a concerning call from her new doctor while she and her
husband were celebrating their 48th wedding anniversary at
a Texas Hill Country cabin: her CT scan showed cancer cells. The
doctor suspected they originated in one of her ovaries.
“My first thought was, I wonder if I’m going to make it to my
49th wedding anniversary,” Cathy recalls.
She was immediately referred to MD
Anderson where she was diagnosed with stage IV high-grade
serous ovarian cancer, an especially aggressive form of
The cancer diagnosis was a shock to the 67-year-old,
who had always lived an active and healthy lifestyle and who had few
ovarian cancer symptoms. “I’m the one in the
family who never gets sick,” she says.
Confidence in her care
Cathy was familiar with MD Anderson, as
she’d been a caregiver for both her mother and father when they were
treated here many years before. “It never crossed my mind that I would
be the one getting the treatment,” she recalls.
During her first appointment with Shannon Westin, M.D., associate professor in
Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine, Cathy felt confident
that MD Anderson was her best choice for
care. “She hadn’t been in the room five minutes before I said, ‘I’m
good. She is going to take care of me. She is on it!’”
A Moon Shots Program immunotherapy clinical trial
Cathy enrolled in a clinical trial that includes:
- Nine weeks of chemotherapy (carboplatin and taxol) combined
with an immunotherapy drug called Durvalumab;
Debulking surgery to remove as much of the
cancer as possible;
- An additional nine weeks of the chemo
and immunotherapy combination; and
- 28 weeks of the
Durvalumab immunotherapy by itself, to prevent recurrence.
The clinical trial is part of MD
Shots Program™, a focused effort to dramatically and quickly
reduce cancer deaths.
Cathy says she’s impressed at how well taken care of she feels by
the entire team involved in her clinical trial, including her research
nurse, Sara Sharafi. “Everyone has bent over backwards to help,” she exclaims.
Three times a week, Cathy travels to MD
Anderson for an infusion and injections that bolster her white
blood cell count. She drives an hour and a half each way from her home
near Beaumont, Texas.
The aid of friends
Cathy credits her family and what she refers to as her “travel team”
for helping her through her cancer treatment. The travel team
comprises close friends who take turns making the journey with her to
MD Anderson and help keep her
entertained during her drug infusions.
“The best part is having so many people who are willing to help
you,” she says.
She’s touched by many others who have prayed for her and helped to
lift her spirits. Each week she receives a card signed by all the
participants of a bible study group in Concan, Texas, though she only
knows one member.
“Cancer has taught me what it is to be a true friend,” Cathy says.
“It makes you realize when someone gets a diagnosis like this – or is
going through tough times – it’s a big deal if you send them a card or
give them a call.”
She’s also learned not to sweat the small stuff. “When you have
cancer, you learn more about what’s important and what’s not.”
Life after ovarian cancer treatment
Once her clinical trial is complete, Cathy’s looking forward to
getting around to the “someday we should” activities with her husband,
who she calls her “biggest supporter,” and spending more time with her
children, grandchildren and new great-granddaughter.
“I’ve got a bunch of kids I’ve got to see grow up,” she says.
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