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Sister Marcille McEntee - Patient Story

"I felt Fox Chase was the right place for me."

— Sister Marcille McEntee, Skin and Ureter Patient

Sister Marcille McEntee is no stranger to miracles.  As a Sister, and Servant of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, her faith is deep and abiding.  Yet to see a miracle at work in her own life is still a special blessing.  

Sister Marcille lives on the grounds of Immaculata University west of Philadelphia, where she teaches English literature, women’s studies and theater. In August, 2013, at the age of 64, she went in for her routine physical. Although she’s dealt with diverticulitis in the past, Sister Marcille was not experiencing any unusual symptoms but her urine sample showed traces of blood. “That was the only time that happened,” she said, “never before or since. If it hadn’t my cancer wouldn’t have been found.”

After some tests, her doctor told Sister Marcille that she had a growth on her urethra.

Her gastroenterologist performed a PET scan which revealed a rare kind of cancer, a mucosal melanoma. “At that point, my urologist admitted 'this is beyond me. You need to go somewhere else',” she recalled.  “Several of the Sisters in my community and an aunt had been treated at Fox Chase, so I prayed about it and did some research. I liked the team approach at Fox Chase. I felt Fox Chase was the right place for me.”

Sister Marcille’s treatment team included Marc Smaldone, MD, a urologic oncologist; Stephanie King, MD, director, minimally invasive gynecologic surgery, melanoma specialist; medical oncologist; and Neal Topham, MD, a plastic surgeon. "From the moment I met them, I felt I was in the best hands possible," she said. "Dr. Smaldone is wonderful, as is his entire team. After discussion by the whole treatment team, they explained they would have to perform a cystectomy and vaginectomy.  They needed to take out practically everything including my bladder. I would be left with an ileal conduit (urostomy) to drain urine." Her surgery was scheduled for October 14, 2013.

Sister Marcille took the news in stride. “It’s hard to explain, but my view of what happens to me is based on my faith.  I trust that whatever God has planned for me, I will be all right.”

The surgery, performed by Drs. Smaldone, King, and Topham, was a success. Sister Marcille’s cancer was contained and her surgical margins were cancer-free.  “I can’t praise the Fox Chase team enough. Dr. Smaldone even gave me all of his phone numbers and said if I needed him I could call day or night.” After two weeks in the hospital, she spent about a month in a rehab center before coming home.  “I really had no pain,” she said. 

Dealing with her “new normal” urostomy was traumatic at first, said the Sister.   “The first time I had to change my bag, I cried and cried, I was just so upset,” she recalled.  “But I had two wonderful angels by my side to help me,” she said.  A sister in her order had the same situation because of cancer 13 years earlier, and generously helped Sister Marcille become used to the routine of self-care.  And Fox Chase therapist Tina O’Mara worked with her as well.  “She’s a marvel, the kind of person that makes you feel calm and assured; just a phenomenal person. Now it’s no big deal, just part of my weekly routine.”

After she regained her strength, her medical oncologist met with Sister Marcille and proposed that she go on a series of Interferon infusions as adjuvant therapy to prevent disease recurrence. “They were very up-front about it,” she recalled.  “My cancer is so rare, and very aggressive, so there is not much data on it but Interferon has been effective with other types of melanoma. I knew they wouldn’t do anything that would hurt me more than necessary, so I agreed to do it. But it was rough. I’ve never been that tired in my whole life.”

The team discussed the Sister’s options. Her body was starting to have a rheumatoid arthritis/lupus reaction to the drug. “We had a discussion. They listened to my input and I felt respected. It wasn’t all of them deciding for me. We all agreed together that I stop the treatment.” As a result, her follow-up scans and blood work look good.

“As far as I know, I’m cancer-free,” she said. “Any anxiety I may have had about my condition has dissipated because of God’s Grace and my implicit trust in the Fox Chase team.”

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