Karen Mason - Patient Story

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"I dismissed my symptoms as being due to the approach of menopause."

— Karen Mason, Ovarian Cancer Survivor and Intensive Care Nurse

As a retired nurse in New Jersey, I used to spend my days on my feet taking care of patients. In early 2000, my gynecologist reported a normal PAP smear and clear mammogram. I assumed I was heading into another healthy year. 

That fall, however, I started to have periods that lasted two weeks, along with severe menstrual cramps. When not menstruating, I always had a crampy feeling in my pelvis. I was urinating frequently, losing weight without dieting, and found myself battling extreme fatigue.

The following spring, when I was 49, I returned to my gynecologist for my annual exam. Upon hearing my complaints, the doctor sent me for a pelvic ultrasound. The results were alarming. Large bilateral masses were found to be completely covering my ovaries. Although it would take a surgical biopsy to determine the diagnosis, ovarian cancer was strongly suspected.

I had been an intensive care nurse for more than 20 years, yet I, like most women, knew very little about ovarian cancer. No wonder I had been feeling so poorly.

I’d never heard of a specialist called a gynecologic oncologist, who is an expert in treating women with gynecologic cancers. My gynecologist quickly placed me on his operating room schedule, going so far as to have me choose what general surgeon would assist him.

Thankfully, my family and I started to do some research on ovarian cancer and quickly realized that if I had ovarian cancer, my best chance to survive was to have surgery performed by a gynecologic oncology surgeon.

After I was officially diagnosed in May 2001 with stage 3C ovarian serous carcinoma, my family and I ultimately chose Dr. Cynthia Bergman at Fox Chase Cancer Center. Dr. Bergman’s talented skills as a gynecologic cancer surgeon quite literally saved my life. With ovarian cancer, having the proper surgery upfront has a huge impact on surviving. I was interviewed on this topic in March 2013 in a New York Times article. 

Three weeks after Dr. Bergman performed the six-hour surgery that involved removing my ovaries, fallopian tubes, several lymph nodes, uterus, cervix, and omentum, or tissue that covers the inside of the abdomen, I began chemotherapy at Fox Chase. I started six rounds of carboplatin and paclitaxel designed to attack any microscopic cells that may have been left behind.

Fox Chase Cancer Center is like an oasis in my life. From the greeting at the front desk to the staff in the various departments such as the infusion room, the lab, or radiology, everyone is friendly, courteous, and caring. Dr. Bergman has continued to follow me for periodic checkups for many years.

My best coping mechanism in dealing with cancer was to get involved in the ovarian cancer community. I realized early on that if I, as a registered nurse, knew so little about this disease, then women in general needed more awareness and education about ovarian cancer.

I’ve become a passionate advocate for ovarian cancer awareness and serve on the Advisory Board of the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. I’m also an active member of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. I’m one of three patient advocates serving on the Department of Defense’s Ovarian Cancer Research Program Integration Panel. It’s both a huge responsibility and quite an honor to serve in this capacity. Our group of 15 determines where the millions of research dollars will be spent each year.

In 2010, I testified before the Senate and House Appropriations Committees for the Department of Defense funding. At Fox Chase, I’m the patient advocate for the Specialized Program of Research Excellence Grant

Because of the care I received at Fox Chase, I’m able to make a difference for other patients with ovarian cancer. And that is an amazing feeling. I want those who have recently been diagnosed to remember that statistics are just numbers.

I’m now a 16-year survivor of stage 3C ovarian cancer, I remain free of disease, and I always say I’m living on bonus time. I still owe Dr. Bergman for my life. So many blessings have come my way since my diagnosis. Both of my sons completed their education and married, and I now have three grandsons and two granddaughters. My husband and I have celebrated 40 years of marriage. I sure have received more than I had ever hoped for or imagined 16 years ago.

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