Two-time ovarian cancer survivor: How the Moon Shots Program helped me

I was in Mexico in the summer of 2013 when I came down with a bad
case of diarrhea. That’s a pretty common complaint among travelers, so
I figured it was just an intestinal bug. The problem continued off and
on for several weeks, even after I returned to the States. I tried to
ignore it and just get on with my life, but I’m a middle school
teacher, and summer is my break time. I had training and traveling to do.

Then I started feeling very bloated. It wasn’t really painful, just extremely
uncomfortable — and it was pretty severe. The bloating worried me
enough that I finally went to an emergency room. I had a CT scan, and
the doctors said I had “ascites,” or large pockets of fluid in my
abdomen. They released me without treatment and recommended I see an oncologist.

The suggestion that I might have cancer surprised me. Still, I
didn’t take it seriously. Instead, I contacted a friend who’s a
gastroenterologist. He referred me to an oncologist, too. I was
officially diagnosed with high-grade serous ovarian cancer in August 2013.

An ovarian cancer diagnosis

I lead a pretty healthy lifestyle and had been running marathons for
years. So the ovarian cancer diagnosis came as a shock. But my
late husband had been treated for melanoma at MD
Anderson
years earlier, so I knew it was the best place to go.
I called and got an appointment with Kathleen Schmeler, M.D., that same week.

As part of a new approach that MD
Anderson’s
taking to ovarian cancer through its Moon Shots Program™, Dr. Schmeler performed a
laparoscopy (an exploration of the abdominal cavity using a small
flexible scope) before I started treatment. This helped her determine
when surgery should be performed. If my cancer had spread a lot, I’d
need to do chemo first to shrink the tumors. But if it was small
enough and hadn’t spread, I’d have surgery first.

Because I had sprinklings of tumor all around my abdomen, my cancer
was deemed too advanced to have surgery first. So I started with nine
weeks of chemotherapy to reduce the number of cancer cells
in my body. Then I had a complete hysterectomy and “de-bulking” surgery (in which all visible evidence of cancer
was removed), followed by nine more weeks of chemotherapy. I finished
treatment in January 2014 and remained cancer-free for three years.

Staying positive in the face of a recurrence

When I started feeling bloated again last winter, I asked Dr.
Schmeler if I could come in for a CA 125 test. CA 125 is a protein made by the
body that can be elevated in cancer patients. Sure enough, my levels
were high, too. I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer a second time in
January 2017.

Being re-diagnosed was a little disappointing. But life happens.
Because we caught it so early, you could barely even see the tiny
sprinklings of cancer throughout my abdomen. This time, my treatment
consisted of six rounds of chemo over 18 weeks. I finished my last
infusion on May 19, 2017, and today, I show no evidence of disease.

Gratitude for the Moon Shots Program

I find it very reassuring to know that ovarian cancer is one of the
diseases MD Anderson is targeting through
its Moon Shots Program. MD Anderson has
some of the smartest doctors in the world, and they are on the cutting
edge of research. They’re also doing great things against melanoma,
which my late husband fought for 18 years.

I got in on the new ovarian cancer protocol the very first month
they began using it, which was a real blessing. Otherwise, I’d have
had surgery first, then 18 weeks of chemo. And my outcome may not have
been as positive.

I meet so many people at MD Anderson who
have traveled thousands of miles to get there. But it’s right down the
freeway from me, so why wouldn’t I take advantage of it? MD Anderson doctors want to get rid of your
cancer, not just buy you time. They saved my life. And I am incredibly thankful.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by
calling 1-877-632-6789.