The Home Field Advantage

Making Smart Choices to Battle Ovarian Cancer

In 2013, Virginia “Ginny” Byrd found out she had cancer – ovarian cancer, one of the rarest types, but one that causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. It was important that Ginny, while reeling from the news, still deal smartly and quickly with what life handed her.

Ginny, who works in the Research Affairs Office in the Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University, was having digestive problems earlier that year. A visit to her family doctor and then to a gastroenterologist, along with scans and tests, eventually revealed a mass in her pelvic area.

The first smart choice Ginny made was choosing a doctor who specializes in gynecological cancer. “Over the last 10 years, studies show that it’s vitally important for women to be treated by what’s known as a ‘gyn oncologist’ who has the training and experience to specifically treat their cancer,” says Christopher Lutman, MD, medical director of Premier Health’s Gynecologic Oncology Center at Miami Valley Hospital South. “Their survival rate is higher.”

“Thank goodness I was able to get in to see Dr. Lutman within three days,” Ginny says.

She and Dr. Lutman discussed the best way of dealing with her ovarian cancer. Ginny says she made a smart choice by agreeing with Dr. Lutman’s recommendation of aggressive surgery.

“Dr. Lutman said that, although I had a large mass about the size of a grapefruit in my pelvis, the cancer is like a paint splatter going throughout the lining of my abdominal cavity,” says Ginny, age 48. “In June 2013, I had surgery. Dr. Lutman removed my uterus, ovaries and tubes and also removed my spleen, appendix, gall bladder and parts of my colon. It was a lot of news to absorb, but I knew this was going to improve my odds.”

“The idea is to surgically reduce the disease as much as possible so chemotherapy has a smaller battle,” Dr. Lutman points out.

Ginny considers choosing Miami Valley Hospital a smart choice, too. Dr. Lutman was able to call in the precise help needed for the complicated procedure, including having surgical oncologist James Ouellette, DO, remove the cancerous cells from Ginny’s liver.

“Miami Valley Hospital has one of the longest running board-certified gynecology oncology programs in the area,” says Dr. Lutman. “The level of experience of our cadre of physicians is second to none.”

Dr. Lutman – and Ginny – have abundant praise for the high level of nursing care at Miami Valley Hospital. “Many of the experienced and compassionate nursing staff has been with us for over two decades. That makes a significant difference,” Dr. Lutman says.

Because Ginny’s recovery in the hospital was far from smooth, she is extra appreciative of being in a nearby hospital.

“Having loved ones with me was essential to my sanity,” she says with a laugh. “Plus my husband, Eric, was there every day and even had to come in once during the night when I really, really needed him. Knowing he was down the road, in our home, made a big difference to me.”

Ginny had six cycles of chemotherapy starting in September 2013. This past summer, an additional surgery to deal with an intestinal issue revealed small spots of cancer in the pelvic area, so Ginny had another round of chemotherapy in the fall. “She’s still Stage 3 cancer, but we’re watching her closely and dealing with anything that arises,” says Dr. Lutman.

“Getting top-notch cancer care close to home has been hugely important as I continue this journey,” she says with determination. “Plus I don’t add travel and other inconveniences to what’s already a lot to deal with.”

Ginny’s chemotherapy sessions have been at the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Miami Valley Hospital South, the Centerville campus of Miami Valley Hospital. She describes it as “extraordinary – such a beautiful place!”

“My chemo sessions were every day from 9 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon, so you better believe where I was made a difference,” she says. “In the chemotherapy area, two of the walls are windows and look out over gardens that have a water feature. Even in winter there are shapes and places of interest in that garden. The nurses are extremely qualified and even see to the small comforts, such as warm blankets and whether you needed your packed lunch heated.”

Very important to Ginny are the relationships she has developed with other cancer patients, yet another “hometown advantage” to her. “I’ve made wonderful friends during my chemotherapy sessions at Miami Valley Hospital South. I’m glad we’re all close by,” she says, choking up a bit. “How could I keep in touch with my chemo buddies if they were all out of town?”

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