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As an experienced nurse in New Jersey, Karen Mason spends her days on her feet taking care of patients. In early 2000, her gynecologist reported a normal PAP smear and clear mammogram. "I assumed I was heading into another healthy year," said Karen.
"I dismissed my symptoms as being due to the approach of menopause."
That fall, Karen begin to have periods that lasted two weeks, along with severe menstrual cramps. "When not menstruating I always had a crampy feeling in my pelvis. I was urinating frequently, losing weight without dieting and finding myself battling extreme fatigue," said Karen. Although Karen was a strong advocate for her patients, when it came to herself, "I dismissed my symptoms as being due to the approach of menopause."
The following spring, Karen, who was 49 at the time, returned to her gynecologist for her annual exam. Upon hearing her complaints, the doctor sent her for a pelvic ultrasound. The results were alarming. Large bilateral masses were found to be completely covering her ovaries. Although it would take a surgical biopsy to determine the diagnosis, ovarian cancer was strongly suspected.
Karen, an intensive care nurse, admittedly knew very little about ovarian cancer.
"I had been an intensive care RN for over 20 years, yet I, like most women knew very little about ovarian cancer," Karen explains. "No wonder I had been feeling so poorly."
Karen had never heard of a specialist called a gynecologic oncologist, who is an expert in treating women with gynecologic cancers. Her gynecologist quickly placed her on his operating room schedule, going so far as to have her choose what general surgeon would assist him.
"My best chance to survive was to have surgery performed by a gyecologic oncology surgeon."
"Thankfully my family and I started to do some research on ovarian cancer and quickly realized that if I had ovarian cancer, my best chance to survive, was to have surgery performed by a gynecologic oncology surgeon."
"We ultimately chose Dr. Cynthia Bergman at Fox Chase Cancer Center," shared Karen, who was diagnosed with May 2001 with stage 3C ovarian serous carcinoma. "Dr. Bergman's talented skills as a gynecologic cancer surgeon quite literally saved my life. With ovarian cancer, having the proper surgery upfront has a huge impact on surviving ovarian cancer," says Karen. She was interviewed on the topic in March 2013 in this New York Times article.
Three weeks after surgery, Karen begin chemotherapy at Fox Chase. She began six rounds of carboplatin and taxol designed to attack any microscopic cells that may have been left behind.
"Fox Chase Cancer Center is like an oasis in my life."
"Fox Chase Cancer Center is like an oasis in my life," declared Karen. "From the greeting at the front desk, to the staff in the various departments such as the infusion room, the lab or radiology, everyone is friendly, courteous and caring." Dr. Bergman continues to see Karen for periodic check ups, which she hopes to continue for many years to come.
"I realized early on that if I, as an RN, knew so little about this disease, that women in general needed more awareness and education about ovarian cancer."
"My best coping mechanism in dealing with cancer was to get involved in the ovarian cancer community. I realized early on that if I, as an RN, knew so little about this disease, that women in general needed more awareness and education about ovarian cancer," said Karen.
Karen has become a passionate advocate for ovarian cancer awareness and serves on the Advisory Board of the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition and is an active member of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. She is one of three patient advocates serving on the Department of Defense's Ovarian Cancer Research Program Integration Panel. "It is both a huge responsibility, and quite an honor to serve in this capacity. Our group of 15 determines where the millions of research dollars will be spent each year."
In 2010, Karen testified before the Senate and House appropriations committees for the Department of Defense funding. At Fox Chase, Karen is the patient advocate for the SPORE (Specialized Program of Research Excellence) grant.
"Because of the care I received at Fox Chase, I am able to make a difference for other ovarian cancer patients. And that is an amazing feeling," she concluded.