Erma Fitzgerald

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Small Bowel Cancer Patient Stories

Erma Fitzgerald

Cancer has come calling 3 times for Erma Fitzgerald, and all 3 times this plucky octogenarian has come out on top.

A widow with few family members in the area, Erma's first experience was in September 2004, when she started experiencing chest pains. Although her heart checked out fine at her community hospital in Langhorne, the doctor opted to keep her overnight and ran a battery of tests. "They found a spot on my lung," recalled Erma, who turned 83 in 2010. "They thought it might be pleurisy or pneumonia. And I've never even smoked cigarettes or drank alcohol." The spot was cancer, treatable by thoracotomy, or surgery to remove a section of her left lung. "I didn't need any chemotherapy or anything, just the surgery."

"Everybody at Fox Chase was just wonderful. No complaints at all."

A year later, a routine colonoscopy revealed a suspicious node on her lower intestine. Erma consulted with doctors at a large Philadelphia teaching hospital, however, she was told by doctors, "We can't get to it." Not accepting that answer, Erma got a second opinion with James C. Watson, MD, FACS, a surgical oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center. "That's how I wound up with Dr. Watson. He told me it could be cancer and needed to come out." Dr. Watson removed 28 inches of Erma's intestine, leaving her cancer-free (no evidence of disease). Despite the extensive nature of the surgery, Erma took it all in stride. "They gave me some pills for the pain. Everybody at Fox Chase was just wonderful. No complaints at all."

"Fox Chase is a long ride for me, but if I have to cross that bridge again, I would do it."

In March 2006, her regular post-cancer check up revealed a small growth on her bladder. Erma went through yet another (successful) surgery at Fox Chase. "They told me it could come back, but I'm hoping for the best," she said. "I try to keep my mind busy so I don't worry too much. Dr. Watson told me he doesn't want to see me again, except socially," said Erma with a laugh. "Fox Chase is a long ride for me, but if I have to cross that bridge again, I would do it."

With the good company of her friend George Larsen, Erma stays busy with puzzles, visiting friends, knitting and crocheting. "I walk a little, but probably not as much as I should. I'm on the computer a lot."

Surviving cancer 3 times tends to make a person think, added Erma. "I really feel like a dodged a bullet. Three bullets." And while she's not an especially religious person, "I thank God every day that I'm alive. I really do."