Kathleen Marchek

Anorectal Cancer Patient Stories, Breast Cancer Patient Stories

Kathleen Marchek

One cancer diagnosis is bad enough. Two in the same month is really over the top. But that’s exactly what Kathleen Marchek faced in August 2009 at the age of 54. Kathleen, now a retired teacher, had a lumpectomy for stage one breast cancer the same week she had a colonoscopy and was diagnosed with stage three rectal cancer. “It was around the same time that Farrah Fawcett died from anal cancer. I was just beside myself. The doctor said I had to take care of this immediately.”

Fox Chase Cancer Center was already on Kathleen’s radar.  She had contacted Richard J. Bleicher, MD, FACS, a surgical oncologist specializing in breast cancer treatment, about her initial diagnosis. Because breast cancer runs in her family, Kathleen decided to have the BRCA test to see if she was a carrier. Thankfully, the test was negative. “I called and said I was now also dealing with rectal cancer.  My appointments turned into team appointments, with meetings scheduled right away.”

"The communication between the doctors was amazing - they were all on the same page about taking care of me."  

With her husband Lawrence, as she describes as "her rock” by her side, Kathleen met with a team of doctors that included a radiation oncologist, a medical oncologist and two surgical oncologists – breast surgeon Dr. Richard Bleicher, and Dr. Jeffrey Farma, a surgical oncologist. “The communication between the doctors was amazing - they were all on the same page about taking care of me.”  

In light of the new diagnosis, Dr. Bleicher scheduled surgery the end of August that involved a lumpectomy along with removal of some of her lymph nodes. Fortunately the breast cancer hadn’t spread to the lymph nodes and so she went home that same day. But Kathleen was going to need chemotherapy and radiation therapy at Fox Chase for six weeks for the rectal, and then more surgery.

“When I think back on whole situation, it comes down to doing what you need to do to get through it,” she recalled.  After six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation, Dr. Farma told Kathleen that the tumor had shrunk and it was time for surgery. “He didn’t know how extensive the surgery was going to be, and had said it as possible she would need a temporary ileostomy or an colostomy,” she recalled.  To treat her cancer, Dr. Farma removed 12 centimeters of her colon and rectum. “When I was coming out of anesthesia, I asked if I had an ostomy bag and the nurse said yes, but it is temporary. I thought, okay, I’m alive and I will live through this.”

"All of the doctors, nurses and staff I worked with at Fox Chase were so wonderful."

Kathleen lived with the ostomy from December 2009 through August 2010 when the ostomy was reversed, while continuing to have chemotherapy and working full time as a teacher. Through it all, she kept her positive attitude. “All of the doctors, nurses and staff I worked with at Fox Chase were so wonderful.  Everything healed and now I feel 100 percent fine. It’s a new normal for sure, but I wanted to survive, to live another day, to see my grandchildren, to travel. I’ve always been a glass is half full kind of person. This experience really put that attitude to the test.”

Kathy Marchek