Connie, 46, had always been active and healthy—running and skydiving were her passions. When she received an ovarian cancer diagnosis, she had no symptoms other than an inflamed lymph node near her groin, which her doctor recommended she have surgery to remove.
Three days after surgery, just before Thanksgiving in 2008, she learned that the node tested positive for cancer. The cancer was stage 3C, meaning the cancer cells had spread outside the pelvis to the liver and spleen, as well as nearby lymph nodes.
Connie, who lives on Long Island, saw two different oncologists, and both gave her a disappointing prognosis. Her physician then referred her to gynecologic oncologist Eva Chalas, MD, at Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Hospital—Long Island. “We hit it off right away. She recommended a treatment plan that seemed most promising,” Connie recalls.
After the initial shock of the diagnosis, Connie was determined to keep living life to the fullest. One of her first questions was if she would be able to continue running and skydiving. Dr. Chalas supported her decision to stay active, but recommended she hold off on skydiving until she finished treatment.
Connie likens Dr. Chalas’s approach as a physician to that of a coach. “She would tell me what she recommended and ask if I wanted to follow that protocol. I always felt that I was being spoken to as an intelligent person who had the option to make decisions about my treatment.”
Because Connie received a diagnosis at a more advanced stage, Dr. Chalas suggested a radical hysterectomy, meaning a removal of the uterus, cervix, ovaries, and fallopian tubes, along with debulking, a surgical procedure that involves removing all the cancerous tissue.
The extensive, five-hour surgery required Connie to remain at NYU Langone Hospital—Long Island for four days during her recovery. “The quality of care at Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Hospital—Long Island is exceptional. The doctors work in partnership with each other, and everyone takes an interest in who you are as a person.”
In January 2009, Connie started a four-month chemotherapy regimen that included intravenous infusion therapy combined with intraperitoneal chemotherapy, in which the chemotherapy is administered directly into the abdominal cavity. Throughout her treatment, Connie continued her part-time job as a business and marketing professional and stayed active, which she says lessened the side effects of chemotherapy. She also took anti-nausea medication before treatment, helping her to manage her diet and nutrition, and avoid excessive fatigue.
“I looked around and realized that for the first time in six months, I was no longer a ‘cancer patient.’”—Connie, Age 46
After Connie completed her chemotherapy in April 2009, Dr. Chalas gave her the green light to resume skydiving. As Connie took off in the airplane, she was a little nervous, but also elated to be back with her friends—and to be given a second chance at life. “I looked around and realized that for the first time in six months, I was no longer a ‘cancer patient.’ Jumping out of the plane that day gave me hope that the worst was behind me and that only blue skies lay ahead,” Connie says.
In November that year, Connie had a cancer recurrence, and Dr. Chalas recommended radiation therapy. She completed her last treatment in May 2010 and has been cancer-free since then. In 2012, she successfully completed a phase 2 immunotherapy clinical trial to help prevent another recurrence. She continues to follow up once a year with Dr. Chalas. “When I go back to Dr. Chalas’s office, it’s like I am visiting my family and not going in as a patient,” she says.
As Connie reflects on her journey, she says setting goals and staying positive helped her finish strong. “Don’t let cancer define you. Live your life and make this experience your own,” she says.