Mary Lynne is no stranger to ovarian cancer. Her mother, when she was in her 70s, was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer and died from it six months later.
After her mother’s death, Mary Lynne’s gynecologist ordered a CA 125 test, which is often used to look for early signs of ovarian cancer in women with a high risk of the disease. Mary Lynne’s CA 125 test was normal.
Ten years later, in the fall of 2013, Mary Lynne, now approaching middle-age, visited a health fair. She was attracted to a display on ovarian cancer.
“I stopped to look at the literature,” recalls Mary Lynne. “I was surprised when the representative told me that, due to my being at high risk for the disease, I should be monitored every year. I had been going to the same medical practice for 15 years and except for first CA 125 test, I had had no further monitoring. The woman at the booth looked at me with her big blue eyes and said: ‘Please go to your doctor and have the tests done.’ Little did I know how that advice would change my life.”
Mary Lynne went back to her gynecologist and, even though the doctor felt the test was not necessary, Mary Lynne insisted. A transvaginal ultrasound, often used by doctors to examine the female reproductive organs and to screen women at high risk for ovarian cancer, was performed. An immediate phone call soon after the test gave Mary Lynne the news – the ultrasound had shown a mass in her abdomen.
“I had a follow-up CA 125 test,” recalls Mary Lynne, “and this time it was not normal, it was very high. I was immediately scheduled for a biopsy of my ovaries. I went in a 7:00 a.m. and when I woke up, it was 9 hours later. I was told that they had found cancer and that I needed surgery.
“At that point, I decided to take things in my own hands. I was determined to change doctors. But this time, I did not let fear push me into making a hasty decision. I started my own investigation and did my homework. I contacted two doctors I knew at church. Both came up with the same referral. I decided to follow their recommendation and made an appointment to see Dr. Alessandro Santin, a gynecologic oncologist at the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven.
Alessandro D. Santin, MD, leader of the disease-aligned research program for gynecologic oncology at Yale Cancer Center, is a skilled oncologist and talented clinical scientist whose research accomplishments have been published in high-impact journals in the cancer research field.
“Dr. Santin’s a world class doctor,” says Mary Lynne, “Very meticulous, very careful about his surgery and treatments. In addition to being a skilled doctor, he knows how to interact with and deal with patients. For instance, he is supportive of my changing my diet and looking at other remedies, such as supplements, that complement his medical protocols.”
Mary Lynne’s surgery was followed by chemotherapy. And although she has had to have some additional surgery, she is in good health. She still wonders about being diagnosed with cancer in her 50s. “Both my grandmothers lived to be over 100, ” she muses. “My mother was in her 70s when her cancer was discovered. I had had three traumatic experiences in 2012. My dear father died. I lost my job. My husband and I divorced. I think all that trauma, and how I dealt with it, cost me my health.”
Today Mary Lynne is enjoying living her life to the fullest with her three adult children, her beautiful grandchildren and her new part-time career, using her information technology background and experience to work as a substitute technical high school teacher.
Her most important advice to other cancer patients: “Be your own best advocate. Listen to that little voice inside you. Especially when you know you have choices. Ask questions. Do your own investigation. Don’t let fear guide you. Stand your ground. And don’t allow yourself to be rushed into making a decision.”
She feels very blessed. “I am healed,” she notes. “ I have had divine guidance throughout my journey. I’ve made Christ the center of my life. He holds my future in his hands and lives in my heart.”