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Always an active person, Donna Sweet thought she’d just pulled a muscle on her left side when she experienced a sharp pain after exercising in February 2012. But by March 2012, when a jostle from her two-year-old caused her to see stars and the pain kept her up all night, she knew it was time to call her doctor. A few days later, a pelvic CT scan revealed that her left ovary was engulfed in a mass.
“I knew if there was a possibility that I had cancer, I wanted to go to Fox Chase Cancer Center,” said Donna who was 55 at the time. “Living in Northeast Philadelphia, I was well aware of the hospital’s outstanding reputation. When I was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer, I found out for myself just how much Fox Chase deserved that reputation.”
Donna was referred to Robert A. Burger, MD, FACS, a surgical oncologist who specializes in gynecological cancers. Dr. Burger serves at the director of the Women's Cancer Center at Fox Chase. He and his team, which included nurse practitioner, Kathleen Smith, CRNP, met with Donna in April 2012.
“Dr. Burger is just so caring, so understanding.”
“Dr. Burger is just so caring, so understanding,” described Donna, who found his manner to be very reassuring during their first consultation. Although Dr. Burger couldn’t say for sure that she had ovarian cancer, he told her that cancer is present in more than 50 percent of women with this type of tumor. “He told me he believed he could help me, but that timing was critical. Dr. Burger's confidence rubbed off on me.”
Dr. Burger told Donna that due to the advanced stage of her disease, he recommended surgery to remove tumors on her ovary and abdomen, followed by a course of chemotherapy. A family member present at the consultation suggested a second opinion, and Dr. Burger supported the idea. “I felt that I was at the best possible place to get care, and was so comfortable with Dr. Burger treating me. I said let’s do it.” Her surgery was scheduled less than two weeks later.
In early April, Dr. Burger performed the delicate procedure to remove Donna's ovaries and the tumors on her abdomen. She tolerated the surgery well and pathology did confirm her diagnosis of stage 3-C ovarian cancer which had metastasized to her liver. Just three weeks later, with nurse practitioner Kathleen Smith overseeing her treatment, Donna started chemotherapy to attack the cancer that remained.
"I never imagined such wonderful care and attention as I received at Fox Chase."
“I never imagined such wonderful care and attention as I received at Fox Chase. Kathleen was always aware of my condition," recalled Donna, who noted that Kathleen even called from her vacation to check on her patient. Kathleen answered all of Donna's questions and explained everything with great detail. "I felt very prepared and confident beginning chemotherapy knowing I was under her care. I actually looked forward to my visits with her. I knew I was in good hands.”
Donna experienced some challenges tolerating the treatment, which is not uncommon, but Kathleen was quick to make adjustments. “Most importantly she anticipated potential problems and proactively worked to prevent them,” said Donna. “I know I was not Kathleen’s only patient but the care and attention I received made me feel like I was.”
“I will be forever grateful to both Dr. Burger and Kathleen for saving my life.”
Donna is doing so well she was able to return to work late October 2012. Her regular test results continue to be good. “I want to put the whole thing behind me, but you never forget, “ she said. “Dr. Burger and Kathleen Smith gave me my life back and I’m forever grateful. Now I can focus on raising my son and that is the greatest gift in the world.”