Karen’s Story 

Advanced Treatment for Uterine Cancer

After being diagnosed with uterine cancer, Karen McKenzie was relieved to find that all of the care and treatment she needed to fight the disease was available at Miami Valley Hospital.

The best advice Karen McKenzie received after being diagnosed with uterine cancer came from her pastor. “I called him right after I’d told my husband and family about the cancer, and read my Bible,” says Karen, now 60. “He said, ‘Now, you know God’s got this. Just be sure to follow through with whatever your doctors tell you to do.’”

That’s exactly what Karen did. At her gynecologist’s recommendation, she made an appointment at Miami Valley Hospital’s Gynecologic Oncology Center. After reviewing her case, the gynecologic oncologist, told Karen he needed to operate as soon as possible to remove her uterus and any affected lymph nodes. He recommended robotic surgery, which would provide excellent visualization and precision, as well as less pain and recovery time.

Karen agreed, and the surgery took place about a week later, in July 2010. Although everything went smoothly in the operating room, the news wasn’t good.

The cancer had spread to the lymph nodes on Karen's aorta and vena cava, which are the large blood vessels that deliver blood to and from the heart.  During surgery, I removed all of the cancerous cells were removed, but it was assumed that there were more not able to be seen. If Karen was going to beat this, she was going to need follow-up treatment to eradicate any remaining, non-visible cancer cells.

An Important Decision

With the surgery behind her, Karen had a choice to make. The standard of care for someone in her situation is to undergo a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. However, the physician felt she was a good candidate for a clinical research study that measures the effectiveness of chemotherapy alone versus the combination therapy. This study is one of about 15 currently available at Miami Valley Hospital, and participants are randomly assigned to receive either chemotherapy or the combination therapy. The physician believed Karen would benefit from either treatment method.

Karen agreed to participate, and was randomly placed in the group of women who would receive chemotherapy only. Her course of treatment included six chemotherapy infusions spaced three weeks apart, all of which took place at MVH’s Gynecologic Oncology Center.

“When I came in for my first session, everything just hit me, and I started crying,” recalls Karen. “One of the chemo nurses, Sandy Lunsford, came over and took my hand and said, ‘When you want to talk, I’m here. Keep the faith.’ After that day, I never cried again. I could tell that God was using people like Sandy to get me through.”

A Comprehensive Approach

Karen is one of hundreds of local women who receive care at the Gynecologic Oncology Center. Founded by William Nahhas, MD, in 1983, the center is designed to meet the needs of women with gynecological cancer (found in the uterus, cervix, ovaries, vagina and vulva).

“We provide every aspect of care, from screening and prevention to treatment, follow up, genetic counseling and research,” says Dr. Nahhas, a gynecologic oncologist who is a professor in the department of obstetrics-gynecology at WSU Boonshoft School of Medicine. “We are well-versed in handling whatever issues our patients may face, from emotional difficulties to complications that arise from treatment.”

Karen credits the staff with keeping her spirits up and helping her manage the effects of chemotherapy, which included fatigue and hair loss. “Ellen Cato, one of the nurses, would e-mail me every so often to see how I was doing and remind me to eat right,” Karen says. “That kind of encouragement, along with my faith in God, got me through.” Now, more than a year after her final chemo treatment, Karen feels great. She has returned to her job as a librarian at Blairwood Elementary in Dayton, and is back to the activities she enjoys, including walking and volunteering at her church. To show her appreciation for the Gynecologic Oncology Center’s role in her recovery, this mother of six and grandmother of eight crocheted footies for the staff – two pairs each.

Like many patients in our region, Karen found the technology, skill and treatment options she needed at Miami Valley Hospital.

Fast Facts About Uterine Cancer

Uterine cancer, sometimes referred to as endometrial cancer, usually occurs after menopause.

Women at increased risk for the disease include those who are obese, are taking estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy or have a family history of uterine, colon or ovarian cancer.

Symptoms include unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge, trouble urinating, pelvic pain and pain during intercourse. Early detection increases a woman’s chance for recovery.

The National Cancer Institute estimates that in 2011, more than 46,000 women will be diagnosed with uterine cancer in the U.S. and about 8,000 will lose their lives to the disease.

For more information about the Gynecologic Oncology Center, call (937) 438-7800.

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