Patient Story

On Cancer: Jane’s Story about Ovarian Cancer

By Memorial Sloan Kettering  |  Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Pictured: Jane McGrath Ovarian cancer survivor Jane McGrath

Jane McGrath had been living in London for a few months back in 2002 with her four-year-old son and her husband, Doug, who was directing a movie, when she started feeling bloated. The bloating became so noticeable that two people asked her whether she was pregnant. Around this time, she also developed a backache that she blamed on an unfamiliar mattress.

“I was very lethargic and couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm to do much,” recalls Jane. “It was unlike me.”

Soon after returning home to New York City, Jane’s family was on vacation when her niece playfully jumped into her lap. After she “spent the better part of the day reeling from the pain,” Jane realized she needed to see a doctor right away.

A few days later, her ob-gyn saw something unusual during a transvaginal ultrasound, an imaging test in which an instrument with a camera is inserted into the vagina to visualize the ovaries and uterus.

“That was my first ‘red flag’ that something was wrong because my doctor stared at the monitor for what I deemed to be way too long,” Jane remembers. To confirm her doctor’s suspicions, she underwent a second scan, which revealed a growth the size of an orange on her left ovary.

A 50-50 Chance of Ovarian Cancer

Even though the diagnosis was uncertain, Jane’s ob-gyn made her an appointment at Memorial Sloan Kettering with gynecologic surgeon Nadeem R. Abu-Rustum.

She explains, “My doctor said, ‘If it’s not cancer, then you’ve had surgery at a great hospital. But if it is cancer, then you’ll be staged properly and have the tumor removed at the same time.’” The stage of ovarian cancer is based on how far the cancer has spread in the body, and can be determined through surgery.

During her first appointment, Jane learned that Dr. Abu-Rustum thought she had a 50-50 chance of ovarian cancer, based on her previous test results.

Ovarian cancer—the second most common type of gynecologic cancer in the United States —begins in the ovaries, the female reproductive glands in which eggs are formed, or the fallopian tubes, the channels that carry eggs to the uterus. Common symptoms of the disease include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and urinary issues such as frequent urination and bladder pressure.

Many times women are diagnosed with later-stage disease because these symptoms are thought to indicate other conditions and are not recognized to be those of ovarian cancer.

Jane had a CT scan, and surgery was scheduled within a week of her appointment. The day before her operation, Dr. Abu-Rustum called to say that her CT scan was “highly suspicious for cancer” and that she should prepare herself not only for a cancer diagnosis but also a hysterectomy – the surgical removal of her uterus.

“At this point I was nearly 45, so Doug and I knew my chances of getting pregnant again were already slim,” Jane says. “Still, hearing I had cancer and was going to need a hysterectomy felt like a double whammy.”

The Big Zipper Surgery

During surgery, an immediate analysis of Jane’s tumor tissue revealed that it was cancerous. Dr. Abu-Rustum proceeded to perform a debulking operation – the standard surgery for ovarian cancer. He removed the tumor along with Jane’s ovaries, uterus, lymph nodes, and all evidence of cancer that he could see.

When she woke up, with Doug and Dr. Abu-Rustum by her side, Jane learned that she had cancer and needed chemotherapy. But, with a smile on his face, Dr. Abu-Rustum said that her cancer was caught at its most treatable stage, and she was therefore very lucky.

As he explains, “Most of the time we find ovarian cancer more advanced than stage I. Jane fortunately was diagnosed early.”

Jane adds, “From that moment on, I felt very confident that I could beat it. And my son was like a little carrot dangling in front of my nose – I had to get better for him.”

Under the care of medical oncologist Paul Sabbatini, Jane went through six rounds of combination chemotherapy with carboplatin and taxol, a standard regimen for ovarian cancer.

Because ovarian cancer can often come back after the initial treatment and remission, Jane was scared early on about having a recurrence. Despite these fears, Jane says of her oncologist, “He always put me at ease and was so calm.”

“For all our patients, including Jane,” Dr. Sabbatini says, “finishing chemotherapy can be an anxious time. We try to provide confidence that if there is a recurrence, there are treatment options available – with newer and more-innovative approaches being developed all the time.”

Finding a Way to Give Back

I think that speaking to a woman who has been through it and survived gives people a lot of hope.

—Jane McGrath, Ovarian Cancer Survivor

With her cancer in remission and feeling grateful for health, Jane has sought ways to help other women with ovarian cancer through advocacy and volunteering.

She tries to spread the message to others about the often overlooked signs of this disease, recognizing that having her symptoms evaluated early probably saved her life. Jane has volunteered since 2005 with the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance’s “Survivors Teaching Students: Saving Women’s Lives.” This national program involves ovarian cancer survivors speaking about their symptoms and medical stories to third-year medical students.  

Still looking for a way to “thank everyone at Memorial Sloan Kettering who helped save my life,” Jane became a patient-to-patient volunteer at the hospital in 2010. With the help of the volunteer office, she is paired with women newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer, who talk with her about their questions and fears, which range from treatment to side effects.

“After you’ve been diagnosed, you have a million questions swirling around your head,” Jane says, “and you may not want to take up your doctor’s time – or feel comfortable asking – some of your more personal questions. I think that speaking to a woman who has been through it and survived gives people a lot of hope. It’s been a cathartic and rewarding experience for me to talk about my cancer, and I hope my story will generate a greater awareness about the disease.”

Comments

I would welcome the opportunity to speak w/ Jane about ovarian cancer awareness. I am the President of Turn The Towns Teal, an awareness campaign for ovarian cancer and its symptoms. Turn The Towns Teal was the inspiration of my brother's wife during her battle w/ ov ca. She, TOO, knew that NOT enough was being done for ov ca awareness. we're going into the 6th year of our campaign, and presently we're in 36 states and counting. Pls. go to our website at www.turnthetownsteal.org.

I wouldTRULY welcome the opportunity to speak w/ Jane and or a representative from Sloan Kettering.

Jane MacNeil, President, Turn The Towns Teal 973-543-2523

Thanks for your comment! We will pass this information along to Jane.

I would love the opportunity to speak with Jane. My sister has been diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer had surgery and chemo which was completed in dec 2011. We pray every day for a miracle.

You can find more information about our patient-to-patient support program here: http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/counseling-support/patient-patient-support. Thanks for your comment!

As a breast cancer survivor myself I feel for Jane and am happy for her. Now I have my best friend who is battling ovarian cancer stage I too. I am so sorry for her knowing how hard the treatments can be.

All I wish you the very best of good health and continue your good work.

As a breast cancer survivor myself I feel for Jane and am happy for her. Now I have my best friend who is battling ovarian cancer stage I too. I am so sorry for her knowing how hard the treatments can be.

All I wish you the very best of good health and continue your good work.

I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Ovarian Cancer in 2008. I had a complete
Hysterectomy and received Cisplatin and Taxol. I had 5 months of treatment
with a Port in my clavical and a Port in my stomach. I had wonderful Oncologist/Gynecologist as well as an Oncologist. I am now a 4 year survivor. I thank Laura Mercier for launching the Laura Mercier Ovarian
Cancer Research Fund. I will definitely buy her product to support. I lost a
Sister to Breast Cancer and Breast Cancer and Ovarian go hand in hand.
Thank You so much for making more people aware of this Cancer.

My daughter was diagnosed 11/20/12 with stage 4 ovarian, mixed germ cell immature tertoma. Unusal metastesis to bones. B.E.P. chemo to start Monday, 11/26. Great surgeon / ocologist, Mercy Hosp in Pgh, PA but has not seen this. Long time donor to MSK, wife is 6 yr breast CA survivor. How do we find consult help from MSK?

Hi Richard, if you’d like to make an appointment with a doctor at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, please call 800-525-2225 or go to http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/appointment. Thank you for your comment.

My wife and I are sitting at MSK awaiting her fourth chemo treatment for PPC peritoneal cancer. We would both like to have someone with experience to talk with as the treatments are automatic and we have not been able to fully consult at this stage with her oncologist.

Thanks for your comment. One of our patient representatives has reached out to you via the e-mail you provided when you submitted the comment.

i underwent a surgery (hysterectomy) and a long chemo iv and ip for ovarian cancer in 2010. I just recently discovered that cancer had spread into my chest and I am still waiting to find out the results of my ct for the abdomen and pelvic to see if it spread anywhere else. what are my chances and is there any latest treatment for this condition. thanks, Marina

Unfortunately, we are unable to answer personal medical questions on our blog. If you'd like to make an appointment with a Memorial Sloan-Kettering physician, please call 800-525-2225.

I was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer this past September. Luckily I was accepted for treatment. My oncologist is Dr rachel Grisham. When and if I go into remission, Dr. Abu Rustem will be my surgeon. I gave just started my second third of chemo. First week is taxol and carboplatin, next two weeks taxol alone.

Mt CA 125 was 82 for the first two weeks and yesterday went up to 93 and this is frightening.

I have not met anyone with stage four ovarian cancer. Could I be put in touch with a stage four ovarian cancer survivor. Thank you

Marcia, thank you for your comment. Someone will be in touch with you regarding your request.

I have the following symptoms: constant bloating, menstrual like pain, and terrible lower back pain. My doctor did an in office sono. and he said, all look good. I am struggling to get him to properly test me. My s/s are getting worst and unbearable. I also feel consistently tired. I need help. Plus my mom died of cancer not certain if uterine or ovarian. The dr. Thinks I am too young- my age 39. What should I do? I am worry.

Leyla, we are unable to answer specific medical questions on our blog. If you would like to make an appointment with a Memorial Sloan-Kettering physician, please call our Physician Referral Service at 800-525-2225 or go to http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/appointment. Thanks for your comment.

Hi-my sister 35 years old is diagnosed with stage 3c ovarian cancer. I havent met anyone that young having this terrible disease. My sister is getting her treatment(doctors have recommended a neo-adjuvant chemo approach) in Singapore as we live here. Would you have any option where we can share the patient profile and get an opinion from the expert doctors at Sloan-Kettering hospital ?

Pooja, if you are interested in getting a second opinion from our physicians, you can contact our International Center at 1-212-639-4900 or go to http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/international-patients for more information. Thank you for your comment.

I was diagnosed with stage 4 OVC. Had treatment and a reoccurrence 7 months later after debunking and treatment with carbo/ taxol. Second line treatment has resulted in a remission. I would like to talk to someone who has also experienced this. Thank you

Dear Jane, we are sorry to hear about your diagnosis. Our Patient-to-Patient Support Program can help put you in touch with someone who has had a similar diagnosis and treatment experience. You may call them directly at 212-639-5980. Here is a link with more information: http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/counseling-support/patient-patient-support

You may also be interested in our online support group for people living with advanced cancer (the next meeting is being held on Aug 27): http://www.mskcc.org/events/support-meeting/making-today-count

Thank you for reaching out to us.

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