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Stephanie Heart: Facing Life

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"Everybody on both teams, from the physician assistants to interns to nurses, and every single person I have dealt with there has been tremendously kind and loving."

— Stephanie Heart

I was referred to Fox Chase by my dermatologist, Robert J. Willard, MD, FAAD, of Dermatology & MOHS Surgery Center, PC. He saw my biopsy results and over the phone he recommended I see Jeffrey Farma, MD, at Fox Chase immediately. It was malignant melanoma (acral lentiginous). It was my left great toe. I went in to see Dr. Farma within a week.

Kind and Gentle Care

My nurse navigator was amazing when I got there. She had a smile on her face. I was terrified and she really walked me through the process. Even on the phone, when scheduling the appointment, she was just so kind.

Then I saw Dr. Farma and he informed me of the diagnosis and explained that he was going to need to amputate my toe. He was gentle and kind about it and I was sobbing. He was amazing. He explained the procedure and I was scheduled within a week to have surgery. He explained he would save as much of my toe as possible to reduce balance issues.

Amputation and Biopsy

The tumor was pretty deep. Dr. Farma explained that he was going to do a sentinel lymph node biopsy. He explained he would inject dye into the tumor before he removed my toe. The dye would travel to the nearest lymph nodes cancer could travel to. They needed to see if my lymph nodes were invaded by cancer cells to do proper staging. I was Stage 2 before the test. They performed the amputation and biopsy all in the same morning.

In 12 days, I got the sentinel lymph node biopsy results and they found microscopic cells, which put me at Stage 3. Dr. Farma scheduled the PET scan for final staging. They did the PET scan and there were no further cancer cells found. I remained at Stage 3b.

At that point, we scheduled my consult with Anthony J. Olszanski, MD, who was gentle and kind and informative. He answered all the questions I could think of at that point. He explained that we were going to do immunotherapy treatment monthly for a year. At that point, they believed we got whatever cells they could see and good margins from amputating the toe. Immunotherapy was being used to prevent any potential cells left in my body from spreading and growing.

Doctor on Call

Dr. Farma gave me his cell phone number. When I was having panic attacks about my toe not looking good, or having pain, or not feeling well, if I sent Dr. Farma a text, he would read it and respond within minutes, even on the weekend. He eased my anxieties when they were really high.

Everybody on both teams, from the physicians assistants to interns to nurses, and every single person I have dealt with there has been tremendously kind and loving. I haven’t encountered one bit of negativity. I always bring somebody with me. They’ve been welcoming and treated my family and friends exactly the same. We are all freaked out and we need love and care.

On my first day at Fox chase, I was greeted by a wonderfully sweet and informative social worker, Anjali Albanese. She has helped so much throughout this entire process.

Living a Full, Productive Life

I’m 11 months into immunotherapy treatment currently. Based on scans, I’ve been cancer free for about six months.

I’m back to working full time. I had taken eight weeks off. I’m a sales manager for Clipper Magazine. I’m able to live a productive life and go to all of my daughter’s performances. There are struggles, but I’m doing it. Now, I’m able to live longer.

There are some side effects from immunotherapy, but it’s worth it. Hopefully, no recurrences will come. With melanoma there’s always a chance of recurrence. But all the research done has decreased the chance of recurrence.

 

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