Carol Rey: Confident in the Hands of Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor Experts

“I feel so wonderful about my entire experience at Fox Chase. I knew I was in good hands the entire time.”
‐Carol Rey

When I met the physicians at Fox Chase Cancer Center who would be treating me, I knew right away there were no better hands to be in.

I am a breast cancer survivor, but my second journey with cancer started about two and a half years ago, when I started to experience two symptoms. First, I was waking every two hours during the night to empty my bladder. Second, I started having quite a bit of trouble moving my bowels. I put off seeing a doctor about these symptoms, but finally a friend of mine suggested that I go see a gynecologist to discuss what was happening.

During my physical examination, my gynecologist told me that she could feel a large tumor by my uterus. She said it was about the size of a softball! She sent me immediately for an ultrasound and a CT scan. I wasn’t allowed to leave until they got the results.

A Self-Contained Tumor

The imaging showed that the tumor was near my rectum, but they said it was self-contained and didn’t appear to have metastasized. I needed to have it checked out further right away.

I scheduled an appointment with the same surgeon who had done my breast cancer operation because I had such a great experience with him. Unfortunately, it was clear that this tumor was not something he was familiar with. After consulting with a team of doctors, they told me it was a type of cancer called GIST, short for gastrointestinal stromal tumor.

I knew I needed a physician who knew more about treating GIST. My son had a friend who had just had an operation for colon cancer at Fox Chase and had a very positive experience. I asked my son to call Fox Chase and get me an appointment.

A Specialty Center

It was as easy as could be. A coordinator at Fox Chase called me back and I was able to get in to see someone within a week or so.

I get chills thinking about it because I found out that one of my doctors, hematologist/oncologist Dr. Margaret von Mehren, was involved in exploring the use of Gleevec, also known by its generic name imatinib, for GIST. I felt like I couldn’t be in better hands.

My surgical oncologist, Dr. Jeffrey Farma, also impressed me immediately with his knowledge of GIST. I was even more impressed when he told me he had done hundreds of operations on this type of tumor.

Watching the Tumor

Dr. Farma told me I would start a year of imatinib and we would watch the tumor. We wanted to get it to shrink as much as we could. I immediately knew I was in good hands.

I had CT scans every three months and the tumor kept shrinking. It started at about 13 centimeters and went down to about 4.5 centimeters. About six months after I started imatinib, Dr. Farma had a conversation with me about the location of the tumor. He said it was close to the sphincter muscle, but that he was not exactly sure where it was located. If the tumor was that close, there was a possibility that I need have an ostomy bag to collect my bodily waste after they removed the tumor.

I was beside myself with this news. I cried the whole appointment. Dr. Farma was so sympathetic to my concern, and said we could watch and wait a little longer. He really listened to me and understood my apprehension. After three more months, the tumor was not shrinking any more, and it was time to take it out.

Time for Surgery

When he said it was time, I begged him to leave the tumor in me. I said it was not bothering me and I was scared. One of the great things about Dr. Farma, though, was that he knew when to put pressure on me and when not to. He said it was time for the tumor to come out.

He agreed to do an exploratory surgery to find out exactly where the tumor was located. That surgery showed it was about 6 or 7 centimeters away from my sphincter muscle. Dr. Farma said we could go through my rectum and remove it, and that I shouldn’t have any ill effects.

He was right! After the operation I had no ill effects at all. I joked with him afterwards that if I had known how easy it would be I wouldn’t have given him such a hard time. I spent four days in the hospital and came home feeling wonderful. I thought he was a miracle worker.

The surgery was January 16, 2023. I will have to get new CT scans every six months for two more years just to make sure the tumor doesn’t come back and I still take imatinib. Dr. von Mehren said I will get the best results staying on imatinib for five years, and I am about halfway done.

I feel so wonderful about my entire experience at Fox Chase. I knew I was in good hands the entire time. Learn more about treatment for GIST at Fox Chase Cancer Center.