Judy Tomarchio - Patient Story
"I needed to see an oncologist, somebody I could really trust,"she shares.
— Judy Tomarchio
Judy Tomarchio didn't spend her honeymoon lying on a beach or cruising the Mediterranean. Instead, the South Philadelphia native found herself on the operating table at Fox Chase. In 2007, Judy, who was 54, was being treated 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," recalls 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 and detected 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-operative 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 shares. It was her sister who did some online research and suggested she go to 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," Judy assures. "I owe everything 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."
Dave popped the question the week before Judy learned the cancer had spread.
Following surgery, Judy received a bit of good news - she did not need radiation therapy. "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 radiation," recalls Judy, who was relieved. Following her recovery, Judy was back to work at a busy South Philly Italian restaurant, where she's waitressed since 1990. She continued to see Dr. Bergman and Dr. von Mehren for follow-up appointments. Just one week before Judy learned there was a lesion on her liver, Dave proposed marriage to Judy.
"Right then, Dr. von Mehren took me into meet the surgeon, who explained the procedure," remembers Judy. "As long as they all said I was going to be okay, then I was going to be okay." She also met with a gastroenterologist specializing in liver cancer, Minhhuyen Nguyen, MD. In June 2007, Judy underwent surgery to have the right lobe of her liver (which contained the cancer) removed. "All I can say is, thank God for Fox Chase. Without them, I wouldn't be here."
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 in 2012.
"I felt reassured by the level of care I got at Fox Chase. Everyone 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 five months after being diagnosed with a rare squamous cell carcinoma. "Of course I was afraid, worried," admits Judy. "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."
Judy was diagnosed with a small lesion on her lung in 2011. In 2015, she marked four years on chemotherapy and enrolled in a clinical trial. She still experiences pain and other struggles living with cancer. However, she finds warmth and support from the community she’s developed at Fox Chase since 2004.