February 09, 2018
Uterine cancer survivor finds miracles in her rare experience
BY Mena El-Sharkawi
Jan de Chambrier had always envisioned herself as a mother to several children. In 1990, she and her husband were on their way to fulfilling that desire when they found out they were expecting twins. Then she suffered a miscarriage. And the news got worse from there.
“They discovered a tumor behind the uterus,” says Jan, who was 37 at the time. “It was unusual because at that age, women are not diagnosed with uterine cancer. I was told that it was a miracle that I conceived given that I had this type of cancer in my body.”
Losing the ability to bear children after uterine cancer treatment
As part of her uterine cancer treatment, Jan had to undergo a complete hysterectomy.
“I went overnight from being pregnant to being menopausal,” she says. “It kind of rocked our world.”
Jan struggled with the emotional impact of her treatment for a year and a half. Then her husband helped her gain a new perspective: Her story wasn’t a tragedy; it was a miracle because if it wasn’t for her pregnancy, no one would’ve discovered the tumor until it was too late.
“That’s really what turned the corner for me,” Jan says.
Eventually, she and her husband adopted a son, Paul, and in 1994, the family moved to The Woodlands, Texas from Denver, Colorado.
A rare uterine cancer recurrence
After more than two decades in remission, Jan noticed a lump in her lower abdomen in January 2016. “I thought it was a hernia because it had been 26 years since my diagnosis,” she says.
Jan’s family doctor examined the lump during her annual physical and told her it wasn’t a hernia.
“I just felt a jolt,” Jan recalls. “I remember going out to my car, and I thought, you know, I have a choice here. I can give into fear, or I can choose to remember what God did 26 years ago.”
Jan met with Douglas Nelson, M.D., at MD Anderson in The Woodlands, and the results of her staging studies caught everyone by surprise.
“It was a very unusual recurrence of the original cancer,” she says.
A second miracle
Jan’s scans indicated her tumor was aggressive, so Michael Bevers, M.D., said she needed to undergo a 6-hour surgery to remove the mass, along with half of her stomach muscles, and have her small intestine restructured with the help of plastic surgeon Victor Hassid, M.D. But on April 14, 2016, Jan awoke from surgery to see Bevers smiling at her.
“He said, ‘You probably won’t remember this, but it went very well. We learned that all we had to do was remove the tumor,’” she recalls. “It was so encapsulated and so contained that they didn’t have to remove any muscles. Dr. Hassid just consolidated all the scars in my abdomen into one beautiful line.”
A new purpose after uterine cancer treatment
Cancer has inspired Jan to help others who are dealing with their own diagnoses.
“You have to grieve,” she advises, adding, “Just because we have experienced deep loss, it doesn’t mean that we no longer have a purpose. Sometimes we have to look deeper to find our purpose.”
This introspection led Jan to volunteer with myCancerConnection, MD Anderson’s one-on-one support program for cancer patients and caregivers.
“I felt that I had been so blessed to go through that whole process and emerge healthy and joyful and able to live a strong and vibrant life,” she says. “I have a wonderful family and a great career, so it’s been great to give back to help others.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
TopicsCancer Recurrence Grief Fertility Support Survivorship Psychosocial Treatment Surgery Uterine Cancer
Sometimes we have to look deeper to find our purpose.
Jan de Chambrier