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In the spring 2012, at the age of 71, Vera was busy preparing to attend her 50th college reunion, to leave for a family cruise through the Panama Canal, as well as keep up her usual home and garden work. So when she noticed some issues with frequent urination, she didn’t pay much attention, attributing it to the normal aging process. But on April 22 of that year, she woke up with a pronounced swelling between her rib cage and her naval. Her doctor suspected a hernia, but urged her to get a CT scan and make an appointment with a surgeon quickly.
“Now we know he saw something else there,” she recalled. Although the surgeon saw a hernia, he indicated that Vera had bigger problems: her right kidney was enlarged; her right ureter was kinked; and he detected masses. At her doctor’s urging, Vera consulted both an urologist and gynecologist, setting off a whirlwind of activity that turned her life upside down.
A vaginal ultrasound revealed masses around Vera’s ovaries. An MRI revealed that the masses were compressing at least one ureter and damaging one kidney. An appointment with a gynecological oncologist was scheduled and a stent insertion was arranged to preserve the kidney function. “Life as I knew it was totally overturned in the period of three days,” recalled Vera.
Vera's daughter urged her to get a second opinion at Fox Chase.
At this point her daughter, an assistant professor and a cancer researcher specializing in colon cancer in the Medical School at Washington University, urged her mother to go for a second opinion. “She told me to make sure I go to a comprehensive cancer center like Fox Chase,” Vera recalled. Fox Chase happens to be about three hours from Vera’s Scranton home. “Even though Fox Chase is a very busy place, they made room in the schedule for me,” said Vera. Within a few days, she was sitting in the office of Robert A. Burger, MD, a surgical oncologist who specializes in treating patients with gynecologic cancers. He is also the Director of Fox Chase Women’s Cancer Center.
Vera hadn’t been officially diagnosed with cancer. It was possible the tumors were benign neuro fibromas but it was imperative that they be addressed quickly. Dr. Burger recommended a colonoscopy, which ruled out the presence of colon cancer, but a biopsy performed simultaneously confirmed ovarian cancer. The masses were wedged in her abdomen and putting pressure on her kidneys, so they had to come out. The problem was that they were so integrated with other organs that immediate surgery was impractical, dangerous and offered potential for poor outcomes. Dr. Burger, working with Dr. Jeffrey Farma, recommended a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.
"Dr. Burger was so wonderful, very easy to work with."
“Dr. Burger was so wonderful, very easy to work with,” recalled Vera. “He took a lot of time with us, and clearly explained all aspects of my treatment.” He recommended a course of chemotherapy, then he would perform the surgery. After that, Vera could receive more chemotherapy close to her home in nearby Binghamton, NY. After nine weeks of chemotherapy, Vera underwent surgery on September 14.
“Dr. Burger said it was really miraculous,” she said. “All they found was scar tissue.” Vera recovered well from the surgery and was home in five days. Eight weeks of follow-up chemotherapy was administered as an additional cautionary measure. “I think I had the best possible result,” she said. “Our daughter steered us to the right place. I feel very blessed that we went to Fox Chase and Dr. Burger, who, because this is all he does all the time, took a much more comprehensive approach than we might have gotten elsewhere to get me well.”
With cancer behind her, Vera can enjoy retirement, thanks to the wonderful staff at Fox Chase.
“Now that I’m only monitoring for, rather than actively managing, my cancer, I can get back to the business of enjoying retirement, thanks to Dr. Burger and the other wonderful people of Fox Chase.”