Topics in This Section
As a certified personal trainer, registered yoga teacher and Pilates practitioner, Karen Applegate is tuned into her body. She’s used to keeping a busy schedule, so when she started feeling unusually tired in 2010 at the age of 52, Karen didn’t worry much at first.
But then the bloating started, along with sharp pains in her stomach and persistent back pain that would intensify when she took a deep breath. “I knew something was wrong,” she recalled. There was a history of colon cancer in her family, so that prospect worried her.
Her doctor ordered an ultrasound, which revealed that Karen had an ovarian tumor. While she was waiting for the official test results from her doctor, Karen landed in the emergency room with crippling abdominal pain on a Friday. Tests revealed that she had a cyst. By Monday, Karen learned one of her blood tests detected an elevated CA125 (a substance in blood that is often elevated in ovarian cancer).
The mother of one of her daughter’s friends worked for Mark A. Morgan, MD, FACOG, FACS, a surgical oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center, and urged Karen to make an appointment. Even though the diagnosis was not yet confirmed, Karen felt that by meeting with Dr. Morgan, whatever the result, she would be in the most experienced hands.
“I was praying that it would just be a tumor, not cancer,” she recalled. Dr. Morgan specializes in treating women with gynecological cancers. He performed a hysterectomy and the pathology revealed that Karen had Stage 3 ovarian cancer, which had metastasized, or spread, in her abdomen. During the procedure, Dr. Morgan removed more than two and a half liters of fluid in her abdomen, which explained the pain Karen had been experiencing.
"Dr. Morgan is tremendous – a good person, a calm man and a very good surgeon."
“Dr. Morgan got me through it,” she recalled. “He told me, ‘Karen I think your chances are good to beat this.’ He was able to get the cancer and I’d need chemotherapy. I had a mantra of positive words from him that I would focus on when I felt anxious. Dr. Morgan is tremendous – a good person, a calm man and a very good surgeon.”
After surgery, Karen met with her medical oncologist, Lainie P. Martin, MD, to discuss chemotherapy. Dr. Martin enrolled Karen in a clinical trial and she was randomly assigned the most aggressive type of treatment. Although she was hesitant, Karen knew this trial could offer the most effective treatment.
"I feel like the CRU nurses are my sisters."
“Dr. Morgan said that if I was his wife, he would be glad that I was enrolled in that arm of the trial – which made me feel very reassured.” Karen considers herself lucky to have worked so closely with the Critical Research Unit (CRU) nurses, who were her frontline medication providers. “I feel like the CRU nurses are my sisters. I felt so genuinely cared for – I love them all.”
Although she had some challenges during treatment, which is common, Karen tolerated the 18 rounds of chemotherapy better than she had anticipated. In 2012, two years after surgery, Karen received clean CAT Scans and reported to be feeling well. As a Pilates instructor, Karen's especially happy to have regained her strong core, despite having major abdominal surgery.
“I was very, very lucky, to get through it the way I did,” said Karen. “I’m hoping I can remain with that luck. I’m just so thankful to Dr. Morgan, Dr. Martin and the entire staff of Fox Chase Cancer Center.”