When Pam Scarpino was diagnosed with stage IIIC high-grade serous ovarian cancer in October 2007, her local oncologist told her she was really good at giving her patients five years to live.
“That didn’t sit well with my gut,” she says.
So Pam turned to the internet for advice.
“MD Anderson kept coming up as one of the top places to go for ovarian cancer,” she says.
But the single mother of two teenage daughters lived in Kansas City, Missouri, and she didn’t want to uproot her family. She decided to try treatment near home instead.
Advice she’ll never forget
During her first chemotherapy treatment, Pam went into anaphylactic shock from an allergic reaction to Paclitaxel, which is often used to treat ovarian cancer. Afterwards, a nurse gave her advice she’ll never forget: “There’s no do-over with this, so you can’t worry about hurting anybody’s feelings or whether you should not go to MD Anderson. Just do it.” With a leap of blind faith, Pam decided to go to MD Anderson.
Three weeks later, Pam was in Houston meeting Pedro Ramirez, M.D., and the rest of her MD Anderson care team for the first time. Their attitude – and the time that Dr. Ramirez took to talk about everything -- struck a lasting impression.
“You have your medical record number, but you absolutely weren’t a number to him,” she says. “And that was something that was personally important to me. I had to have a doctor who believes in me, is going to hear me and is working in my best interest.”
Pam’s treatment for ovarian cancer at MD Anderson
During Pam’s first visit, she received her second chemotherapy treatment, and her doctors were overly careful to make sure her body could handle the dosage.
“They would desensitize my body every time I went in for my treatment,” she says. “The first chemotherapy treatment took 16 hours because they had to dilute it and give it to me very slowly.”
Pam returned to Houston every three weeks for her chemotherapy infusions. After her last treatment in April 2008, a PET scan showed no signs of cancer. She then agreed to participate in a clinical trial that randomly assigned some patients treatment of XYOTAX or Taxol, while others – including Pam – received surveillance.
An ovarian cancer recurrence
That December, Pam headed to Houston for a follow-up appointment. She had a gut feeling that she’d get bad news. Dr. Ramirez confirmed her suspicion: a new tumor had formed in the same spot as the previous one. Cancer also was detected in her paraaortic lymph nodes, and it was deemed inoperable.
Dr. Ramirez put Pam back on Paclitaxel and carboplatin, but eight months later, she had to stop taking them due to nerve damage.
Plan B puts Pam’s ovarian cancer into remission
Pam then started weekly infusions of the chemo drug Taxotere. After she completed treatment, she moved to Houston in December 2009 to begin intensity modulated radiation therapy, which is performed by only a few medical teams across the country.
She finished her 33rd radiation treatment in February 2010. The following month she learned she had no evidence of disease. She’s been in remission ever since then.
“I don’t even know how to describe how that feels. It’s amazing, and it continues to be amazing,” she says. “With the strong support of Team Scarpino and my trust in God’s plan for me, I am blessed to greet each morning with gratitude.”
Stay true to yourself
Pam now lives in Iowa and is working full-time again after her recurrence forced her to leave her job. She also volunteers with myCancerConnection, MD Anderson’s one-on-one support program for patients and caregivers.
Pam hopes that by sharing her story, she’ll empower other patients to take control of their cancer journeys and treatment, wherever it may lead them.
“Each person has to figure out what works best for them and stay true to that,” she says.
For her, this meant coming to MD Anderson.
“People always ask me why I went all the way to Houston, and I simply look at them and say, ‘If the engine falls out of your Ford, do you take it to the Chevy dealer? No, you go somewhere where someone knows how to take care of the Ford,” she says. “So I’m going to go where somebody knows how to take care of my cancer.”