On Feb. 7, 2002, it felt as though I had jumped off a cliff and
was falling in slow motion, not knowing how I was going to land.
That was the day I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer - a day that
had started normally, like all the others in my 43 years.
As usual, my work calendar was filled with meetings from 7:30
a.m. to 5:30 p.m. I had, however, scheduled some time with my
gynecologist for a "routine visit" to assess some intermittent
abdominal pain that I had been experiencing. Upon examination, my
doctor said she thought she felt something and that an ultrasound
was needed. Despite her visible concern, I was convinced it was
nothing to worry about. After all, I had never been seriously ill
before, and there was no history of cancer in my family. So I
returned to Children's for one more meeting before the test.
After the ultrasound, I was told to return immediately to my
gynecologist's office. The waiting room was quiet, and I was
quickly escorted into an office. A sensation of impending doom
emerged. My doctor asked me to call my husband, but because he was
at least an hour away, I asked her to give me the news. As she did,
I could see her speaking but could not hear what she was saying. I
believe that our brains have a way of accepting only information
that we can handle, and I could no longer handle what I was
hearing. I called Susan Shaw, director of clinical operations at
Children's and a friend and colleague, to help me hear the words
most people fear: "It is likely you have cancer."
I was in total shock. Susan and I returned to Children's and
immediately called Stephen Sallan, MD, Dana-Farber's chief of
staff. He said that if it was confirmed that I had ovarian cancer,
Ursula Matulonis, MD, at DFCI was the physician he would recommend.
The thought of being treated anywhere other than the Institute
never crossed my mind.
The surgery I had several days later confirmed I had cancer and
that it was Stage III, which means the disease had spread beyond my
ovaries. I underwent a complete hysterectomy and entered a new
world filled with the symptoms of surgical menopause and the
worries and physical ramifications of cancer treatment. Within one
week, I had enrolled in a clinical trial run by Dr. Matulonis and
received my first dose of chemotherapy. The next seven months were
filled with nine cycles of chemotherapy using three different drug
My co-workers and supervisors at Children's and Dana-Farber
were, and continue to be, amazing. I remember telling Eileen
Sporing, chief nursing officer at Children's, that things did not
look good and that I wasn't sure when or if I'd be back. "You will
be back," she stated without hesitating. "I'll hold your job for as
long as it takes, but you will be back." Or David G. Nathan, MD,
president emeritus at Dana-Farber, advising me, "Don't look right,
don't look left, just keep your eyes focused on the goal. We need
During my darkest moments, these words, as well as the hundreds
of cards, get-well wishes, phone calls, and gifts, were what kept
me focused. Everyone has been phenomenal. I am honored to be
associated with this network of people.
I took some time off at the beginning of my treatment because I
understood it was going to be a rigorous protocol. I had planned to
be out for at least six months. A couple of weeks after the
operation, however, people started calling me about work-related
issues and sending memos and documents home for my review. By May,
I decided to return to the office on a part-time basis, taking work
home when I could or having it sent home when possible. Returning
to work was truly the best medicine. It helped me make the
transition from "cancer patient" to "person with cancer."
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