Nurse finds insight in her breast cancer diagnosis
Mary Anne Marshall
During the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, my doctor told me that my inflammatory markers were sky high. She also was concerned about my family history of ovarian cancer. She recommended a complete physical and well-woman check, including a mammogram.
As a nurse, I’ve always valued a second opinion. I didn’t want to endure a repeat of all the tests and needle biopsies. But I’ve spent most of my life in Texas and the No. 1 cancer center in the nation was right down the road in Houston. I’m so glad I made that appointment at MD Anderson. My breast cancer was more invasive than originally thought. My medical team was methodical and thorough, and when they suggested genetic testing, I agreed.
I was scheduled for a lumpectomy and reconstruction of my left breast. Two days before surgery, my genetic test results came in: I had an inherited BRCA1 mutation. I needed a double mastectomy. And due to the increased risk of ovarian cancer in patients with BRCA1 mutations, Dr. Cristina Checka recommended I undergo a preventive complete hysterectomy on a future date. It was a total gut punch.
My unexpected ovarian cancer diagnosis
In November 2017, I had a one-and-done double mastectomy with complete reconstruction. No follow-up treatment was necessary. I felt the world lift off my shoulders. My cancer had been caught early, with clean margins and no lymph node invasion.
Three months later, I met with my new gynecologic oncologist to prepare for my hysterectomy.
Let’s just say I never saw it coming. Tests revealed I had ovarian cancer — likely stage II/III. Surgery was scheduled for four days later. My new doctor had my life in his hands, and I completely trusted him.MD Andersonhad managed everything masterfully up to that point. My job was to lean in.
I was the first MD Anderson patient to receive a newly available outpatient intraperitoneal chemotherapy, a way of delivering the drugs directly into my abdomen via a port. After my treatment, I was my doctor’s first patient to receive a new maintenance oral chemotherapy for late-stage ovarian cancer survivors.
My MD Anderson team had my back
It was a long, hard two years, but my MD Anderson team’s support and encouragement carried me through. They were compassionate, communicative and present. My care was what medical care should be. As a nurse, I felt this to my core. At my most desperate and scary moments, my team was there. They never disappointed.
How incredible is it that with every bit of bad news on my cancer journey of four years came a silver lining? I benefited from ovarian cancer advances being made at just the right time for me. And at every challenge, my medical team had my back.
I am alive because of that and am forever grateful.