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Judy Tomarchio didn't spend her honeymoon lying on a beach or cruising the Mediterranean. Instead, the 54-year-old South Philadelphia native found herself on the operating table, under the care of James Watson, MD, a surgical oncologist specializing in both GI cancers and sarcomas. That surgery in 2007 was part of her ongoing treatment at Fox Chase Cancer Center for leiomyosarcoma, a rare kind of cancer of the soft tissue that can arise from smooth muscle cells anywhere in the body. "We moved the wedding up so we'd be married before the surgery," said Judy. "My Dave was with me from day one - he was my rock."
For Judy, her cancer diagnosis in 2004 came as a surprise. "My doctor laparoscopically removed a fibroid from my ovary - it was no big deal." When a lump appeared in her abdomen a few months later, her doctor went in to take a look. What he found was a tumor. After being referred to another doctor, Judy went through an abdominal surgery to remove the 8-centimeter tumor. At first, she was told it wasn't malignant. A post-op meeting with her surgeon changed that diagnosis - it had indeed been cancer.
Judy's sister suggested Fox Chase Cancer Center for a second opinion.
Feeling upset and bewildered, Judy turned to her close-knit Italian family for help. "I needed to see an oncologist, somebody I could really trust," she recalled. It was her sister who did some research online and suggested she go to Fox Chase.
"Through this whole ordeal, I've felt that there was an entire team of doctors working just for me at Fox Chase."
Working with a medical team that included Margaret von Mehren, MD, a sarcoma specialist, Penny Anderson, MD, a radiation oncologist specializing in soft tissue sarcoma, and Cynthia Bergman, MD, a gynecologic surgical oncologist, Judy underwent a hysterectomy. "Everybody was just wonderful to me, I owe everything to Fox Chase," shared Judy. "Through this whole ordeal, I've felt that there was an entire team of doctors working just for me at Fox Chase."
The day her husband proposed to her, she was in for a check up, and got the news that they'd found a lesion on her liver.
Following surgery, Judy received a bit of good news - she did not need chemotherapy. "Dr. Anderson called me at home, and said she'd just come from a conference where she learned that my particular type of cancer doesn't merit chemo," Judy recalled. "That was a relief." Judy concentrated on her recovery. After a few months, she went back to work at a busy South Philly Italian restaurant, where she's waitressed for more than 20 years. She continued to see Dr. Bergman and Dr. von Mehren for follow-up appointments. The day her husband proposed to her, she was in for a check up, and got the news that her doctors had found a lesion on her liver.
"Right then, Dr. von Mehren took me into Dr. Watson, who fit me in between appointments. He showed me exactly what he was going to do, and assured me that he had successfully treated other women my age and diagnosis. I still remember, he said 'Judy, we're going to get that.' As long as they all said I was going to be okay, then I was going to be okay." At this point, another member of the Fox Chase team, Minhhuyen Nguyen, MD, a gastroenterologist specializing in liver cancer, joined Dr. Watson in Judy's treatment.
The right lobe of her liver which contained the large cancer was removed in June of 2007. During her recovery, Dr. Watson kept her upbeat. "He is a very positive person. He lays it on the line and tells you exactly what you're dealing with, but he's very uplifting. All I can say is, thank God for Fox Chase. Without them, I wouldn't be here."
"I felt reassured by the level of care I got at Fox Chase. Everyone - especially the doctors and nurses - really listens and pays attention."
Unfortunately, this is not the first time cancer has touched Judy's life. Her first husband died in 2001, just 5 months after being diagnosed with a rare squamous cell carcinoma. "Of course I was afraid, worried. But I really felt reassured by the level of care I got at Fox Chase. Everyone - especially the doctors and nurses - really listens and pays attention."
Although a small lesion has been identified on Judy's lung, it remains dormant (not progressing). She gets a CAT scan every 3 months to monitor its progress. "I think the hardest thing about living with cancer is the feeling that I'm living 3 months at a time. When it's time to go in for my check up, I get worried."
"I owe everything to Fox Chase care. I'm here today because of them."
Judy believes it is vital to be surrounded by positive people - a support network of friends and family that keep her motivated and feeling loved. "Dave is an extremely positive person. He's by my side no matter what." Her husband was also by her side when the couple took that postponed honeymoon to the Virgin Islands a few years ago. "I feel lucky every day," said Judy. "I owe everything to Fox Chase care. I'm here today because of them."