Cathy Van Horn

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Lainie P. Martin, MD

Ovarian Cancer Patient Stories

Ovarian Cancer
Cathy Van Horn

When Cathy Van Horn met with her Fox Chase Cancer Center team in 2012, she knew where things stood. “I understood that my cancer wasn’t going to be cured. The best we could do was to manage my cancer and keep it at bay. The longer we could stay positive and keep moving forward, the longer I’d be here.”

At the time, Cathy was also a heart patient. After a cardiac ablation in April 2011 at the age of 61, tests revealed a tumor in her pelvis. “I’d been dealing with heart procedures for eight years. This, I didn’t expect. Cancer came out of the blue,” admitted Cathy. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer that had metastasized to various places in her body. The tumors didn’t respond to regular chemotherapy and continued to grow.
 
Referred by her primary physician to Fox Chase Cancer Center for a second opinion, Cathy met with medical oncologist Lainie Martin, MD, who took the case to the hospital’s tumor review board February 2012. She underwent surgery to remove the tumors, which persistently returned. Cathy was put on a different chemotherapy drug regime, and her “new normal” life with cancer began.

For Cathy, one of the hardest things about her cancer was the extreme fatigue caused by chemotherapy.  “It was beyond just feeling tired,” she said. “I couldn’t get down on the floor and play with my grandchildren. All I could do was sleep.”  When Dr. Martin told Cathy about the Cancer Fatigue Program offered by Fox Chase physical therapists Jeannie Kozempel and Lora Packel, she was skeptical.  “As an active cancer patient, I just wasn’t sure how this program would benefit me.” She decided to give the program a try and enrolled in April 2013.

"Jeannie and everyone else were so encouraging. I wanted to keep trying."

“I was apprehensive the first time I went. Everyone else there was in remission or had been technically cured. I just didn’t know if this was going to work.” So began a life changing experience that has empowered Cathy, and every other member of the group, to regain some normalcy and quality of day-to-day life. On their second meeting, the group walked around a path on the hospital’s campus. “I managed to go around one and a half times,” she recalled.  “Everybody else had circled three and a half times. I felt like, 'Oh brother! I’m not going to make it.' But Jeannie and her team kept encouraging me to walk. I wanted to keep trying.” 

Using simple exercises and practical daily tasks, each person kept an activity diary of what they did each day. Whether it was walking, pulling a few weeds or doing seated exercises, the tasks were tailored to each individual’s goals and abilities. Meeting once a week for two hours, the group started to see progress.

“By the time we were done, every one of us had surpassed the strength and stamina measurements that were made that first week,” Cathy said. “I had so much more energy. The difference in my energy level in just three months was incredible.”

"The support I’ve received from my family and Fox Chase is just incredible."

For Cathy, one of her proudest moments came when she crossed the finish line of the City of Hope’s 3.5 mile walk for women’s cancer in September 2013 with her family by her side. “I didn’t think I’d make the whole thing, but when I needed to rest, they all stopped with me. The support I’ve received from my family and Fox Chase is just incredible.”

Thanks to her experience with the cancer fatigue workshop, Cathy can perform household tasks, play with her grandkids and take a walk. She serves as secretary to one of the support groups she attends, and is one of the Imerman Angels, an organization that facilitates personalized connections between cancer patients, survivors and caregivers. “The way I felt - so tired all the time - just wasn’t me. Now, I feel like myself. I feel alive again. I am just so grateful for the dedication and support of everyone on my team at Fox Chase.”