Carol Fighting Back | UnityPoint Health - Des Moines

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UnityPoint Health - John Stoddard Cancer Center


Fighting Back

Because ovarian cancer is most often detected at later stages, effective treatment relies on the success of surgery and follow-up chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. The coordinated gynecologic oncology services at John Stoddard Cancer Center give patients the tools to fight back.

Carol Shafer, 62, always schedules an annual gynecological exam. In late October 2009, her pelvic exam located an ovarian mass, which a computed tomography (CT) scan and biopsy confirmed was cancer. Surgery to remove the mass was scheduled for December 1 and chemotherapy treatments began 6 weeks later in mid-January.

"After my husband and I learned I would have surgery, I met with Jennifer Witt, care coordinator for ovarian cancer patients, and she explained a lot about my chemotherapy treatment plan," says Carol. "I was very emotional, but she did an excellent job of comforting me and explaining everything in detail."

No News Is Not Necessarily Good News

Often called the "silent killer," ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries but may not be detected until it has spread, causing more noticeable symptoms.

"If women have symptoms, such as back pain, bloating, increase in abdominal girth, trouble eating or urinary urgency, that are new and persist for more than two weeks, they should consult their physician," says Steven Elg, M.D., Ph.D., gynecologic oncologist at John Stoddard Cancer Center. "After early detection, the adequacy of surgery to remove ovarian cancer is a key indicator of a patient's positive prognosis. We offer a variety of surgical options to meet patient needs."

Road To Recovery

Carol received chemotherapy through a port under her collarbone six times, lasting 18 weeks. Her husband, Roy Shafer, was by her side through it all taking care of her as she recuperated between doses.

"Prayer, my husband, family and friends helped me get through this difficult and emotional time," says Carol. "I feel fortunate to have been treated at John Stoddard. Everyone-the doctors, nurses and other staff-have been excellent, caring and supportive."

Stoddard Gynecologic Oncology Team

Members of the treatment team and resources for gynecologic cancer at John Stoddard Cancer Center include:

  • Cancer care coordinators who provide education, guidance and support throughout each patient's journey and help access resources at Stoddard and in the community.
  • Physician specialists (medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, primary care providers) who meet with the entire care team to discuss treatment plans and coordination of care.
  • Radiation oncologists who employ state-of-the-art radiation therapy tools to treat gynecologic cancer patients accurately and effectively.
  • Support services including social workers, psychologists, chaplains, and dietitians.
  • Genetic testing can help people gauge their risk for ovarian cancer. When results are "positive," patients can take more aggressive steps to control individual risk factors, which may include lifestyle modification, additional screening, careful monitoring and follow-up tests.  For more information about genetic testing, call 515-241-8704.

For more information on the Gynecologic Oncology Program at Stoddard, please call 515-241-3399.