Debby O'Hara's Story
In early July of 1987, my husband, Jack, and I returned from a weeklong vacation in Bermuda about six weeks before our oldest son's wedding was to take place in Richmond, Virginia. We were happy, tanned and very excited about the first wedding of our six children. We loved his fiancée (still do!) and were looking forward to coordinating everyone and everything for the nuptials and festivities.
I had an annual gynecologic appointment scheduled with a new doctor as mine had retired. I was a new patient of Emma Zargarian, MD, and after her exam she gently, but firmly, told me she had felt growths on each ovary. She wanted me to go to GBMC for a sonogram and thought I was a candidate for an immediate total hysterectomy. I replied that this was impossible, as I felt fine. I told her I had a wedding in four and a half weeks, and that I would attend to this problem after the big day.
I thought Dr. Zargarian was crazy, and she probably thought I was crazier! She was located in Cross Keys at the time, and again, gently, but firmly, almost pushed me out the door. She had called GBMC, the hospital was ready for me to have a sonogram and she told me I had to go.
The sonogram confirmed Dr. Zargarian's thoughts, and when I spoke to her from the hospital, she said she wanted to schedule me for surgery the following Monday morning. She was patient with me as I cried and said I didn't even know her, so she scheduled me to receive a second opinion. Dr. Zargarian had me in to see Dr. Grumbine early the next morning and he agreed with her. Thus the surgery was scheduled for the next Monday with no idea of possible malignancy – this was "just in case."
I had upper and lower gastrointestinal tests, all kinds of blood work done, saw Dr. Blumberg, and Dr. Zargarian promised I would be fine for the wedding if I followed all her rules after the surgery, which was a full-blown old fashioned hysterectomy. I did follow her rules, and I was fine for the wedding.
The growths were diagnosed as malignant at Stage 2B, but the cancer was not thought to have spread, and treatment would have to wait until after the wedding so that I could heal from the hysterectomy. I allowed myself to be entered at random for a trial of an old treatment versus the newer chemotherapy treatment and was chosen for the older treatment. I had radioactive phosphorous inserted into my abdomen through a catheter/shunt and was then turned in all directions so the medication would wash all of my innards. Because this was a trial, all parts of the procedure were very specific and at times were actually funny. The hospital and procedures were VERY different at that time and I had no idea what was going on! If more cancer was detected, the backup plan was to be chemotherapy, which at that time was very difficult to tolerate and very hard on the kidneys. No trace of a further malignancy had turned up, so I did not have to have the chemotherapy.
After the trial I was in was completed, a period of over ten years later as so few women are diagnosed at that early stage, that form of treatment was not deemed successful. I was one of the VERY lucky guinea pigs who had no recurrence.
Looking back, how can I ever explain how fortunate I have been? Dr. Zargarian was away as I recovered at GBMC, and all of the doctors who came in to oversee my recovery highly complimented her on her diagnostic talents, as well as her skill as a surgeon and all her other clinical skills. The nurses were wonderful. There was no cancer center then, and yet I had wonderful care. One nurse in particular made an enormous impression on me. Every night Muriel came in to GBMC at 10:45 p.m. for her 11:00 p.m. shift, and before getting down to business, she stopped in to see all of her patients. She always introduced herself as “Muriel the night nurse" and said she was there if we needed anything at all. She then went to the nurses' station to make the necessary plans for medications and other duties. I always knew someone was watching and waiting if I needed anything, and this was so comforting at night when a hospital can sometimes seem very scary and spooky.
I did not know at the time how afraid I should be, I just wanted to be the best mother-of-the-groom ever! I had found a dress for the wedding before surgery, and friends bought shoes and had them dyed to match it while I recovered at home. I followed all the rules regarding stairs, going anywhere, and so forth. Truthfully, we were all too dumb to be in panic mode over me. It was years before I realized how fortunate I was to get to Dr. Zargarian when I did, as I think many doctors would either not have found the growths or perhaps would have allowed me to wait for surgery, and then who knows?
Our fifth child went off to college that fall and I did not think too much about me except for regaining strength and energy, and hoping the phosphorous was doing its job. My checkups and blood tests continued to be good, and I was in the hands of Dr. Grumbine, the gynecological oncologist, who saw me before all his scheduled patients on that second opinion day, which made me vow never to be upset waiting for any doctor appointments. Sometimes doctors are late occasionally because of patients like me!
After everything, I knew I had much to give back. Our youngest was at Loyola High School, and I was President of the Mother's Club. Once he was accepted at Delaware University, I knew that GBMC was where I wanted to work to repay someone for my good health, and over the years I have gained much more than I have given! The GBMC volunteer program is vibrant and cohesive, and I am proud to be a part of it.
Because I was diagnosed early and treated carefully, I have seen all six children married and have enjoyed eleven grandchildren to the endth degree. My husband, Jack, was successfully and comfortably treated for thyroid cancer at GBMC, which was diagnosed by Frank Lee, MD, with surgery done by John Saunders, MD, and further treatment by Dr. Saunders’ team. Jack has also had successful retina surgery performed by Dr. Sjaarda. All surgeries were scary at the time, but in retrospect all were efficient, comfortable and successful. As with me, the staff surrounding my husband was always outstanding, comforting and reassuring.
So, together, we have been well treated and we are grateful for all the time given to us to see our family grow and to fit into their own family lives and experiences. We had a chance to give them their wings, and, with thanks, we are fortunate to be able to watch them "fly." I feel happiness and gratefulness for our life as it has been to this point. We are very fortunate! I am extremely thankful for my health and happy to be a volunteer at GBMC.