Mary Haspel - Patient Story

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“Dr. Rubin’s calm and caring demeanor put me at ease.”

— Mary Haspel, Ovarian Cancer Patient

I was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer in 2014, nearly a year after I first noticed symptoms that were diagnosed as a urinary tract infection.

My doctor, an integrative physician, started me on a ‘natural’ remedy for the infection. When my symptoms persisted, he referred me to a urologist who prescribed antibiotics. The antibiotics cleared up the infection, but my symptoms later returned and were accompanied by back pain, which could mean that the infection was affecting my kidneys.

After I was prescribed stronger antibiotics, I decided to seek care from a different urologist who conducted a more thorough assessment and noticed a swelling in my groin. The diagnosis was a hernia, but that diagnosis proved to be wrong.

By that time, I had been experiencing abdominal pain and loss of appetite, and my normal weight of 100 pounds had dropped to 78 pounds. My urologist ordered an ultrasound, which detected fluid in my abdomen, a red flag for cancer. A subsequent CT scan revealed the cancer. Everything I had heard about ovarian cancer was very dire, and I was scared.

Mary consults with her nurse, Kathy Smith, and surgeon, Dr. Rubin.Mary consults with her nurse, Kathy Smith, and surgeon, Dr. Rubin.

My general practitioner referred me to Dr. Stephen C. Rubin, a surgical gynecologic oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center, and I was able to get an appointment the next day. Getting the appointment that quickly was the first positive thing that happened after my diagnosis. I still felt absolutely terrified as we drove to Philadelphia for the appointment, but knowing I would be seen quickly made me a bit calmer.

Dr. Rubin reviewed my medical history and scans before explaining his recommended treatment plan. He was calm and caring, which put me at ease. I have not always been a fan of doctors, but I began to trust that Dr. Rubin would do his very best to help me get well. When I left his office that day, a little window of hope had opened.

The next week, Dr. Rubin performed a hysterectomy. Everyone who cared for me in the hospital was kind and concerned about my comfort, and I recovered quickly and didn’t need any pain medication when I returned home. My incision healed quickly, and I returned to my normal activities after several weeks. At three weeks, I was able to hike three miles.

The next stage of treatment was an 18-week course of chemotherapy, followed by 12 monthly treatments. I had dreaded chemotherapy, but it really wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. Instead of sitting in a cold clinical room, I felt as though I was getting treatment in a warm cocoon, surrounded by the compassion and positive energy of the nurses and an unlimited supply of warm blankets. The chemotherapy affected my life in a positive way in that I decided to retire to focus on my healing and to create a better lifestyle for myself.

When I was diagnosed, I thought about my bucket list. Becoming a yoga instructor was No. 1 on that list, and so I trained to be a yoga instructor while I was finishing chemotherapy. I now teach yoga to children, mostly those with special needs, and I find it very rewarding. I try to nurture myself and avoid stressful situations and people, and I do many things to enhance my health and well-being. I eat a healthy plant-based diet, meditate twice a day, walk several miles a day, and practice yoga and tai chi.

Mary's and her nurse, Kasey Mathews.Mary's and her nurse, Kasey Mathews.

In March 2017 I was diagnosed with a small recurrence of cancer, and I am now undergoing six courses of chemotherapy at Fox Chase. I am responding well to treatment and feel positive about the outcome.

I advise other women to be proactive about their medical testing, especially if they have symptoms that get worse or don’t go away.  I think anyone with a diagnosis of cancer should avoid looking up information on the Internet, focus on their own needs, and learn something new that they have always been interested in pursuing.

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