When Dianne Simpson rang the bell at MD Anderson on April 10 to signify the end of her high-grade serous ovarian cancer treatment, she considered it one of the happiest days of her life. The 73-year-old and her family later gathered for dinner, where they symbolically cut their teal ovarian cancer awareness bracelets, celebrating a future that had seemed unsure just months earlier.
Ovarian cancer symptoms overlooked
After Dianne began feeling bad last summer, she was told she had chronic constipation. A doctor suggested she drink a liquid laxative and warm water. She complied, but the pain didn’t go away.
“I thought something was attacking my body, like a virus. I felt horrible,” she says. “I couldn’t stand up for very long, and my back felt like it was breaking in two.”
She had an ultrasound several weeks later, but Dianne says results showed “everything was fine.” Meanwhile, her pain and bloating worsened. “I couldn’t sleep in my bed, couldn’t sleep on my side. I had to sleep in a recliner for a month!”
When a different doctor performed an endoscopy and CT scan, he noticed a shadow on Dianne’s ovary that he suspected was cancer. Dianne was referred to MD Anderson’s Nicole Fleming, M.D., assistant professor in Gynecologic Oncology, and had an appointment at MD Anderson in Sugar Land the following day.
Treatment for stage III high-grade serous ovarian cancer
Dianne immediately felt at ease with Dr. Fleming and confident in her care. “She treats you like you are the only patient she has. She asks if you have questions, answers every question you have and immediately knows what to do,” Dianne says.
The MD Anderson care team removed more than two liters of fluid from Dianne’s stomach and performed a laparoscopy. It showed tumors on every organ in her abdominal cavity. With a diagnosis of stage III high-grade serous ovarian cancer, her treatment plan would be aggressive. “But I was thrilled to do anything that Dr. Fleming or her staff told me to do,” she says.
She received nine weeks of the chemotherapy drugs Carboplatin and Taxol, which Dianne says caused few side effects and made her “immediately feel better.” In fact, she says she felt more energetic than she had in the months leading to her diagnosis.
Dr. Fleming also performed a complete hysterectomy to remove the small tumors that remained after the chemotherapy.
A Moon Shots Program immunotherapy clinical trial
To ensure her cancer didn’t return, Dianne joined a clinical trial that combines an immunotherapy drug, Pembrolizumab, with the two chemotherapy drugs. The trial is part of MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program™, a focused effort to dramatically and quickly reduce cancer deaths.
“I can’t tell you the level of gratitude I have for Dr. Fleming and her staff, and everyone at MD Anderson,” Dianne says. “I have never in my life encountered people who are more caring, compassionate and willing to help.”
Life after ovarian cancer treatment
In fall 2016, during her first chemotherapy infusion, Dianne received an impactful visit from an MD Anderson volunteer who was an ovarian cancer survivor. “I can’t begin to convey how that encounter made a difference in my outlook on the journey I had just begun,” Dianne recalls. “She said, ‘You will be me in 2017.’ And here I am, right at the point she was!”
With her successful ovarian cancer treatment behind her, Dianne stresses the importance of being your own health advocate when you suspect something isn’t right. “Don’t accept the first diagnosis when nothing is changing after six weeks. Go immediately to someone you can trust,” she says.
She’s now looking forward to becoming an MD Anderson volunteer and watching her grandchildren graduate from college and begin their families. “MD Anderson has given me my life back. I never thought I would be here now,” she says.
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