Missy Light Dougherty

Ovarian Cancer Patient Stories

Ovarian Cancer with fertility preservation
Missy Light Dougherty

Proud mother, Missy, holding her "miracle" baby, Molly, in July 2009.

Missy Dougherty is a beach girl at heart and has spent many summers in Sea Isle City, New Jersey, working weekends at the Springfield Inn. The summer of 2007 was to be no different. On summer break from graduate school, Missy and her husband, Brendan, planned to take their 2-year-old son to Sea Isle every weekend. However, Missy was more tired than usual and began experiencing symptoms consistent with both irritable bowel syndrome and a urinary tract infection.

Traveling from one doctor to the next, she tried a variety of medications, and cut back at work, but nothing seemed to help. "I felt miserable, and I knew something was wrong, but I wasn't getting the right answers," she said. Finally, a CT Scan of her abdomen and pelvic region detected an ovarian cyst and 2 small stones. That's where her journey began.

Missy's local doctor was reluctant to operate.

Missy pleaded with her doctor to perform surgery - but her doctor preferred to monitor the situation. On October 1, Missy won her battle and had successful surgery to remove the cyst. She was scheduled to see the doctor 6 weeks later, but received a frightening call just 2 days later. With pathology reports in hand, her doctor said, "It wasn't what we thought."

Missy recalled thinking, "What did we think it was?" It turned out that Missy had cancer in her left ovary, which is typically treated with a total hysterectomy. Ovarian cancer is often hard to detect because the symptoms match those of other ailments. As with other cancers, early detection is associated with better outcomes.

"I was only 31 and we wanted more children."

The Dougherty's decided to get another opinion. They met a surgeon who offered to remove the left ovary, leaving the other intact, as long as the disease had not spread. However, he had never performed that procedure before. Missy was not confident in his ability and decided to continue her search.

"Finally, a friend in the medical field suggested Fox Chase."

Missy Light Dougherty

Missy and her husband, Brendan, are both big Phillies fans.

"Finally, a friend in the medical field suggested Fox Chase," shared Missy. "She thought I would be in good hands at Fox Chase, especially given my unique situation. We put our faith in Dr. Mark Morgan, a surgeon at Fox Chase who had successfully operated on younger women and was able to preserve their fertility."

By the end of October (less than a month after her first surgery), Missy was admitted to Fox Chase. Although Dr. Morgan made no guarantees about preserving her chances to have another baby, he was able to remove the left ovary, leaving the right one intact. Missy recalled waking up from surgery to see her husband crying. "He told me that my cancer was caught early and might be able to conceive another child," explained Missy.

Missy stayed at Fox Chase for a week, with a picture of her son next to her bed. "Dr. Morgan would pop in here and there to check on me," remembered Missy. "I asked my parents if they thought he ever got to sleep!" She was impressed with the nurses and how attentive they were to her needs.

Missy Light Dougherty

Missy's children wear teal shirts in support of the Sandy Rollman Foundation.

Step Two: Chemotherapy

Once she was home, Missy received a call from her doctor who explained she was at risk of the cancer spreading to her abdomen (due to the fact that the cyst had burst during the original surgery at her local hospital). This meant additional treatment of chemotherapy for Missy, which she started just before Christmas, at Fox Chase.

"My husband and my boss from the beach kept me company during chemotherapy," Missy shared. "And our family chipped in like crazy to take care of our little guy."

Through her treatment, Missy continued to attend night school, which was a welcome distraction. By March, her menstrual cycle returned and by August, she was given a clean bill of health by the doctors at Fox Chase. The Dougherty's were given the "green-light" to try to have another baby. Their next appointment was scheduled for October.

Dr. Morgan not only saved my life - but gave us the ability to bring a new life into the world."

Just before that appointment, Missy began feeling nauseous and tired again. "My first thought was that the cancer had recurred," admitted Missy. "It was at Fox Chase that I learned I was not sick, but pregnant!"

"The first time we heard the baby's heartbeat, I cried like crazy," recalled Missy, as she began the next leg of her journey. "It was exactly one year after I was receiving my first dose of chemotherapy." After reading through Missy's health history, the ultrasound tech commented that this baby is truly a gift.

On July 10, 2009, Molly Elizabeth joined the Dougherty family.

The nurses and doctors at in the delivery room celebrated what they termed a "miracle," while Missy and Brendan could not stop crying after the roller coaster they had endured. They chose the name Molly, as it means "gift from the sea." At the time of Molly's birth, Missy had no signs of cancer.

Missy returned to bartending after Molly was born and earned her Master's degree in Sports Management at Neumann University in 2010. In 2013, Missy celebrated five years cancer-free. She recalls walking out of Fox Chase's infusion room on January 31, 2008 with a parting comment from her nurse Terry. "I hope I never see you again," said Terry. Taken out of context it could sound mean, but it put a big smile on Missy's face. "When Brendan and I left that day, it felt surreal to think about five years later and being disease-free. January 31, 2013 became a reality thanks to everyone at Fox Chase," shared Missy, who remains overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude.