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Heading into 2014, Debbie Richards was preparing herself for a new year full of anxiety and excitement. Her daughter, Ashley, was settled in at Penn State University, but her husband, Ernie, had accepted a new position as high school principal in Sunbury, PA, a couple of hours from their home in Milford, PA. Along with the move, Debbie would have to find a new job herself. She is the Communications Director for Port Jervis School District in New York. What she did not expect was a diagnosis of cancer – but that is what happened in late March 2014 when Debbie learned she had ovarian cancer.
“My husband had already moved to begin his new job and I was in the process of selling our house,” recalled Debbie, who was experiencing bloating and abdominal discomfort. Her doctor ordered a battery of tests, including blood work and a colonoscopy, but all test results were negative. Finally, a CAT Scan revealed a possible cause of her symptoms. Debbie’s doctor called her that evening and suggested she meet with her gynecologist immediately. “I knew something was wrong. No one gets into a GYN office the next day,” said Debbie. “It was a whirlwind. I was alone with the gynecologist, who was talking so fast that it was hard to comprehend what I was hearing. There I was, in shock. I was a happy and healthy 54-year-old wife and mother, working full time and in the midst of a move. This was not what I was expecting.” Her doctor referred Debbie to a few gynecologic surgeons, but she wanted a physician who specialized in gynecologic cancer.
Debbie asked, "Who would you go to if someone in your family had ovarian cancer?" The answer was Dr. Stephen Rubin.
Debbie did her research and asked a highly regarded gynecologist, “Who would you go to if someone in your family had ovarian cancer?” The answer was Dr. Stephen Rubin at Fox Chase Cancer Center. “I also spent a lot of time on the Internet, looking at hospital web sites,” explained Debbie. “Hands down, Fox Chase’s website was the most informative. I was very impressed – and I manage our school district’s website.”
Debbie lives equidistant from Philadelphia and New York, so she was open to cancer treatment in either city. She called renowned hospitals in both cities and was most impressed with Fox Chase. “Everyone I spoke to – from the person who answered the phone to my nurse navigator – was friendly, empathetic and compassionate,” shared Debbie. “They knew how to make a great first impression, and when I arrived for my first appointment, everyone was just as nice as they were on the phone.”
Carol Cherry, the nurse navigator instilled a sense of confidence.
Carol Cherry, a nurse navigator who works closely with gynecologic cancer patients, called Debbie to arrange her first appointment. “I was having a bad day,” recalled Debbie, who was house hunting at the time. “Carol put me at ease immediately. She instilled a sense of confidence and I knew I was in good hands.”
On Wednesday, March 26, 2014, Debbie had her first appointment with Stephen C. Rubin, MD, chief of gynecologic oncology at Fox Chase. “While I was waiting to be seen, my nurse navigator, Carol, came to greet me and asked how the move was going,” said Debbie, who was impressed by her personal touch. “She really got to know me as a person, not just a patient.”
"Dr. Rubin is an incredibly talented physician and I feel so fortunate to have him managing my care."
Dr. Rubin met with Debbie and explained the treatment, which would begin with a full hysterectomy followed by a course of chemotherapy. As a surgical gynecologic oncologist, Dr. Rubin oversees the chemotherapy treatment of his patients in addition to surgery. “Dr. Rubin is an incredibly talented physician and I feel so fortunate to have him managing my care,” Debbie explained. “It was my job to find the best doctor. Now it’s his job to provide the best treatment.”
One week from her first appointment, on April 2, 2014, Dr. Rubin performed the total hysterectomy to remove the tumor. Debbie stayed in the hospital for three nights before returning home to recover. “All of the nurses were amazing, especially Danielle. I think she sensed that I needed someone to talk to,” admitted Debbie. “She sat down and we talked for a while. It meant a lot to me.”
Debbie’s next step will be 18 cycles of chemotherapy. “The year hasn’t turned out exactly as I had planned. But I’m grateful for my wonderful family and for my team at Fox Chase Cancer Center. If I’m going to beat this, I know I’m at the right place.”