Mary Schwarzenberger - Patient Story

"Dr. Rubin 'wrote the book' on gynecologic surgery."

— Mary Schwarzenberger

When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2015, I was adjusting to retirement and planning to put my house up for sale. I am a retired educator and an artist.

It was in April that year when I made an appointment with my general practitioner because I thought I had a urinary tract infection. The doctor noticed that my ovary was enlarged and ordered an ultrasound. I asked that the results be forwarded to both my general practitioner and my gynecologist.

My gynecologist asked me to come in right away when he got the results, and he ordered a second ultrasound which showed that my ovary was definitely enlarged. He said my ovary should be removed and also said it could be cancer. He doesn’t perform this type of surgery, but he recommended a medical school friend who does— Dr. Stephen C. Rubin, chief of gynecologic cancer at Fox Chase Cancer Center. My gynecologist said that Dr. Rubin ‘wrote the book’ on gynecologic surgery, had been at the top of his class, and would be the doctor he would send his own loved ones to if needed. That was all the endorsement I needed.

I contacted Fox Chase and had the pleasure of working with nurse navigator Carol Cherry, who got me in to see Dr. Rubin the next day and addressed all of my concerns. Dr. Rubin reviewed the ultrasound and recommended a hysterectomy. Eight days later he performed the surgery.

I found Dr. Rubin to be very professional and straightforward, and he also had a very reassuring demeanor. My friend came with me on the day of surgery and was impressed with the system of keeping family and friends informed about a patient’s status and whereabouts during the procedure.

The surgery confirmed that I had stage 1B ovarian cancer.  I then had 18 weeks of chemotherapy, which I completed in August 2015. During that time, the doctors recommended that I undergo genetic testing, which I did at Fox Chase. The testing showed that I was positive for the BRCA1 mutation, which increased my risk for breast cancer. After discussion with my treatment team, I decided to undergo a prophylactic double mastectomy.

 Dr. Rubin recommended surgical oncologist Dr. Marcia Boraas and plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Sameer Patel for the procedure. It was a difficult decision, but I am glad that I had the surgery. Recovery was rough but knowing my odds of contacting breast cancer were significantly reduced removed a tremendous weight from my shoulders. Having the procedure done anywhere but Fox Chase was absolutely not an option.

Fox Chase was the best choice for my care. In retrospect, I believe much of it had to do with knowing I was in the best hands at an excellent facility. I was very impressed with the level of care I received, which was phenomenal. The nurses were compassionate, professional, and attentive. Everyone I came into contact with was pleasant, from the custodial personnel to the food service staff. I am impressed with the concern for patient comfort and care.

I sold my house in June 2016 because I was planning to relocate to Asheville, NC. I drove there and looked at several places to live, but after careful thought I decided that the timing wasn’t right for a move. After my cancer experience, my values changed significantly. My friends and family and medical team would both be very far away if I moved. I knew that if I ever needed further treatment, Fox Chase would be my first choice.

Having cancer drove the point home that life is short and many things we feel are important are really not. I no longer stress over stupid things that I cannot change. I no longer allow things I do not value to take my precious time away. There is no time for people in my life who are not uplifting, supportive, and positive. I spend more time focusing on things that I enjoy tremendously. I have also made taking care of myself a priority, so eating well and get exercise are important.

I am usually reticent about talking about health matters, but since my cancer experience I speak freely about them to anyone who will listen. I feel it is my duty to be an advocate and to help educate others about the symptoms of ovarian cancer. I carry cards that list the symptoms, and I give them to anyone who is interested. I also stress to anyone who suspects they may have it to be sure to never let anyone near them with a scalpel unless the doctor is a gynecologic oncologist.

I have joined the Bucks County Chapter of the Fox Chase Cancer Center Board of Associates, which raises money for cancer research. I am extremely grateful for the care I received at Fox Chase, and I believe in giving back. My doctors at Fox Chase will always be my heroes.

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