Mary Anne Barlow - Patient Story
"Dr. Farma saved my life."
— Mary Anne Barlow, Wife, Mother, Grandmother and Rectal Cancer Survivor
Mary Anne Barlow says she has a strong faith and every day does her best to make this world a better place. She has worked as a parole officer, a drug and alcohol counselor and currently runs a non-profit to help at risk pregnant women. “I believe that the Lord leads me to help others,” says Mary Anne.
Mary Anne is also a devoted wife, mother and grandmother. In 2011, Mary Anne was diagnosed with rectal cancer. She believes her faith has kept her on a positive path and believes that positive thinking has played a strong role in her improving health.
In May, 2011, at the age of 55, Mary Anne said she saw her doctor after six months of worsening symptoms. “I had pain when sitting, rectal bleeding and pain. This went on for a few months. I was told to get a colonoscopy and after the test and I was told that a tumor was found on my rectum and it was cancer. I was terrified and in shock,” admits Mary Anne.
She was referred to a local oncologist to begin treatment. Mary Anne’s doctors started her on a course of chemotherapy and radiation therapy near her home in southern New Jersey.
“Following the radiation and chemotherapy, I saw a surgeon several times. Each time he told me ‘You aren’t ready for surgery.’ Then he told me something else. ‘I can’t do this surgery. You will have to go to Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia for a surgery this complex.’ I went home and discussed this news with my family. We decided Fox Chase was indeed the best decision,” continues Mary Anne.
Mary Anne spoke with a nurse navigator at Fox Chase who scheduled an appointment with Jeffrey M. Farma, MD, FACS, a surgical oncologist who specializes in colorectal surgery within a few days. “It was very reassuring knowing that Fox Chase was so professional from the beginning,” Mary Anne remembers.
From the first few minutes she spent with Dr. Farma, Mary Anne knew she was in the right place.“ Dr. Farma told me exactly what needed to be done. He said, ‘You need to have surgery and you have to have it soon.’ Dr. Farma’s confidence made me confident in my decision to come to Fox Chase. He has a rare gift of being straightforward and compassionate at the same time. Within a week I was scheduled for surgery,” says Mary Anne.
"The nursing care was beyond excellent while I was at Fox Chase."
Mary Anne’s surgery was indeed a complex one due to her rare cancer. Dr. Farma removed Mary Anne’s rectum, portions of her colon and intestines and one ovary. “It was a complicated surgery, but the nursing care was beyond excellent while I was at Fox Chase. The nurses were very attentive, my pain was managed and Dr. Farma checked in on me at least three times a day,” continues Mary Anne.
Over the next few months, Mary Anne had two additional surgeries to treat ostomy issues associated with her surgery. “Each time Dr. Farma oversaw my treatment and recovery. Knowing that he was taking care of me put me at ease,” she says.
About 18 months later, during her annual appointment with her gynecologist, Mary Anne’s pap smear was abnormal. “My doctor referred me to Fox Chase. When I called and explained my issue, I was referred to Cynthia A. Bergman, MD, a gynecological oncologist at Fox Chase,” Mary Anne explains.
Mary Anne scheduled an appointment with Dr. Bergman one month later. A few days later, Mary Anne was in to see Dr. Farma for a scheduled follow-up visit. “I told him that it would take a month to see Dr. Bergman. He picked up the phone and got Dr. Bergman on the phone. He told me she would see me that day! I couldn’t believe how Dr. Farma continues to be my advocate and protector,” she says.
In the spring of 2013, Dr. Bergman performed a complete hysterectomy and no cancer was detected. “The recovery from this surgery was so much easier than the rectal procedure. I was up walking the next day,” shares Mary Anne.
In 2016, Mary Anne marked five years since her cancer diagnosis, she continues to feel so much gratitude to Dr. Farma, she can barely get the words out without crying. “He saved my life. I want to thank him so much. The dedication he offers patients goes above and beyond what a doctor does. I truly don’t have enough words to describe how much I want to thank him,” Mary Anne says.
"When I go to Fox Chase, everyone is so kind."
Mary Anne returns to Fox Chase twice a year to see both Dr. Farma and Dr. Bergman. “When I go to Fox Chase, everyone is so kind. They all know me and everyone at Fox Chase is special,” she says.