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Melissa "Missy" Light Dougherty - Patient Story

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"My team at Fox Chase recognized my apprehension and was able to make me calm."

— Melissa "Missy" Light Dougherty, Ovarian Cancer Patient

I was working as a bartender at the beach the summer of 2007 when I was 31. I came home every week for one appointment or another during the summer, and I went to the emergency room several times because of back discomfort, nausea, or pain down the back of my leg. No one could give me a definitive reason for my health problems.

Because I was the mother of a 2-year-old toddler, my doctors blamed my exhaustion on the fact that I was chasing after Brendan. But I needed some answers about my symptoms. Finally in August that year, a CAT scan detected an ovarian cyst and I decided I wanted it removed. I had a low CA-125 score, a marker than can be elevated with ovarian cancer, so I was confident the cyst was not cancer.

After the procedure, my surgeon was pleased with the results and said she would see me in about six weeks. Two days later, however, she called and said things were not as promising as they had seemed. The pathology results indicated I had ovarian cancer.

I vividly remember walking down the street to my parents’ house 10 doors down from where my husband, Brendan, and I live to tell them that the youngest of their four daughters has ovarian cancer. The next several days were a blur, complicated by my husband going to the emergency room with a torn retina.

The first doctor I consulted about the diagnosis recommended a total hysterectomy as soon as possible, but he wasn’t sure he could preserve my fertility. He offered to do some research about my type of cancer and then called me 10 minutes after we left his office to say that he could probably salvage my fertility. I was not convinced he was the right doctor for me, given his hurried research, and I started talking to friends and family about where I should go next. One name kept popping up: Fox Chase Cancer Center.

I made an appointment to see a gynecologic surgeon at Fox Chase two weeks later, but I wasn’t keen about having to wait that long. The scheduler at Fox Chase sensed my uneasiness and called me the day of Brendan’s eye surgery. I told her about the emotional roller coaster I was on and what was going on that day. She wished us luck with Brendan’s surgery and moved up my appointment at Fox Chase. I knew she had listened to every word I said and that this connection I was making with Fox Chase was not going to be just your run-of-the-mill relationship.

I was full of hope after my first meeting with my physician and his nurse. He confidently told me he would consider preserving fertility if things seemed OK during the procedure. When I returned for surgery on October 25, 2007, the team at Fox Chase put me and my husband at ease. When I checked in, a staff member remarked that it was a popular day to be from Crescent Hill Drive in Havertown. Later we ran into our neighbor who lives on our street who was also at Fox Chase for surgery. Not only was it comforting to know he had also chosen Fox Chase but also that the staff member had remembered our street. That made quite an impression on me.

The prep nurse, anesthesiologist, and staff did a great job making me feel at ease. The procedure went smoothly and the pain was manageable, but the following morning I woke up with some chest pain. When it turned out that I would need a second surgery the following day, I was caught off guard and visibly upset. My team at Fox Chase team recognized my apprehension and was able to make me calm. They called my husband and waited until he arrived to start the second procedure.

I spent the next five days in the hospital and tried to stay positive, and the nurses kept reminding me that I would see my son soon. They encouraged me to get up and walk so that I could be discharged as quickly as possible. Their advice worked, and I was home in time for Halloween and for Brendan’s transformation into Elmo.

I received chemotherapy at Fox Chase, and the chemo nurse was comforting and made my experience positive. She even gave advice on my next move in Scrabble when my husband and a friend were beating me soundly. I was also lucky to be enrolled in the risk assessment program and was provided with a tutorial in cancer genetics and counseling throughout my BRCA gene testing. And as my son liked to say, I got new hair.

During my treatment, some friends asked why I was willing to travel so far to Fox Chase. I explained that you just have to know the place and people to know why it is worth it. It is not your typical hospital. Through my connections at Fox Chase, I made an appearance on the Dr. Oz show, and I have been able spread the word that cancer has met a formidable opponent in the Fox Chase community.

In one of my return visits to Fox Chase for follow-up and testing, I was feeling terrible and worried about whether my cancer had returned. I was told that the result of the CA-125 tumor marker test was normal, but that my HCG was pretty high. I was pregnant!

One year after I started chemotherapy, I was able to hear the heartbeat of our daughter for the first time. I couldn’t think of a better place to be to receive such great news. I honestly don’t know who was happier — Brendan and me or the staff at Fox Chase. 

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