"I thought to myself, ‘I have cancer, but I’m going to get through this.’"
— Brooke Fuller, Wife, Mother, Florist and Rectal Cancer Survivor
Work is Brooke Fuller’s happy place. It’s where her two favorite things come together: family and flowers.
In addition to spending time with her husband, Scott, and their 5-year-old son, Pierce, Brooke spends her days designing flower arrangements at Tropic-Ardens, a floral shop her family has run for 65 years in Quakertown, Pa.
“It’s my comfort zone. It’s my daily form of artistic expression, and I love it,” Brooke said. “One of my favorite things is to work weddings, events, and galas – just getting to know clients to make the flowers look special on those big days.”
She said, “It’s great too because I get to work with my family in a place that’s been passed down from generation to generation.”
That’s why, in 2014, when Brooke was diagnosed with Stage II colorectal cancer, she was hit with a number of emotions at once.
“I remember feeling angry, frustrated, upset, and mostly scared,” she said.
Scared of not being there for those big days; scared of not seeing her family again, of not being there to pass the business down to her son.
Starting at the Right Place
Brooke came to Fox Chase Cancer Center after experiencing sudden, unexplained weight loss and bleeding.
“I got a colonoscopy, and it uncovered a malignant tumor that turned out to be colorectal cancer,” she said. “My world got turned upside down. I was only 30 years old. I had a young son who was only 2 ½ at the time. I didn’t know what to think, what to do.”
“The first thing I did when I got home was call Fox Chase because I wanted to be at a specialty hospital that only treats cancer. This is what they do. This is all they work on,” Brooke said.
During her first call, Brooke was connected with Debbie Seremelis-Scanlon, a nurse navigator, who scheduled her a week of appointments with different specialists at Fox Chase. Brooke’s first appointment was with Jeffrey Farma, a gastrointestinal surgical oncologist.
“When I first met Dr. Farma, I noticed his compassion and high level of care for his patients,” Brooke said. “He walked my husband and I through the steps involved in this process and explained what we could expect, and so I trusted his guidance and advice.”
Focusing on Brooke's Unique Needs
“The very next thing my nurse navigator did was refer me to a geneticist and a fertility specialist," Brooke said. "Fox Chase was cognizant of my young age and was accommodating my unique needs as a cancer patient.”
Brooke met with Michael Hall, a medical oncologist and gastrointestinal cancer geneticist, as well as with Stephanie A. King, a gynecologic oncologist who heads the minimally invasive gynecologic surgery program at Fox Chase.
Dr. King explained that because Brooke was going to have radiation on her abdomen, she could perform a preventive procedure to protect her fertility called ovarian transposition, and was given medication to help preserve her fertility function, in case she wanted to have children later on.
“That was mind-blowing to me. I couldn’t even believe that was an option,” Brooke said. “At the time, all I was worrying about was making sure I was around for my son. I wasn’t thinking that far down the road, but my doctors were.”
After meeting her team of doctors from different specialties, Brooke said, “the fear was still there, the anger was still there, but I was better able to manage it.”
“I was getting a hold of what was happening to me. I thought, ‘I have cancer, but I’m going to get through this.’ Putting my trust and faith my medical team made me feel like this wasn’t the end for me,” she said.
Once Brooke recovered from the ovarian transposition, she began a five and a half week course of both chemotherapy and radiation with radiation oncologist Joshua Meyer. Brooke’s tumor responded well to the treatment, and she was deemed a surgical candidate.
Dr. Farma performed a minimally invasive laparoscopic rectal resection, as well as an ileostomy. Dr. Hall then prescribed another four and a half months of chemotherapy to prevent recurrence, and when Brooke was healthy enough for a third surgery, Dr. Farma was able to successfully perform a reversal of the ileostomy.
And with that, Brooke was cancer-free.
Getting Back to her Life
Since Brooke’s diagnosis, she feels changed by her journey with cancer.
“With the experience I had at Fox Chase, it kind of changed my whole outlook. If I hadn’t gone to Fox Chase from the start, things could have turned out very differently for me,” she said.
“Fox Chase gave me my life back, and today I’m back in my happy place,” Brooke said.