Happy Dance: Accurate Cancer Diagnosis, Key to Recovery for Dancer

Happy Dance: Accurate Cancer Diagnosis, Key to Recovery for Dancer

“I love ballroom dancing because all my cares are gone and I’m just happy,” said Christianne Camera, a soft-spoken Milwaukee resident who competes in ballroom dance and is equally passionate about handcrafting jewelry.

Watching her twirl and spin gracefully across the dance floor, it seems the energetic woman in the ball gown doesn’t have a care in the world. However, when a routine checkup with her primary care physician in 2011 revealed a cyst on her ovary, Christianne was soon facing a serious health challenge.

An ovarian cyst may be found on the surface of an ovary or inside it. It contains fluid and sometimes solid tissue. Most ovarian cysts are benign (not cancerous). Christianne’s primary care physician performed surgery to remove the cyst, but soon discovered cancer.

“I never knew anything was wrong because I had no symptoms,” Christianne said. “My doctor immediately referred me to Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin because she knew I needed specialized care.”

As seen in: Froedtert Today September 2013: Model Healthcare

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In fact, the National Institutes of Health reports that women with ovarian cancer have significantly improved survival rates when they, are treated by gynecologic oncologists, physicians specially trained in cancers of the female reproductive organs. Janet Rader, MD, Medical College of Wisconsin gynecologic oncologist who is fellowship-trained, saw Christianne at Froedtert Hospital within days of the initial surgery.

Gynecologic Cancer Care

The Gynecologic Cancer Program at Froedtert Hospital provides highly coordinated care for women who have cancers of the reproductive organs. The diseases include cancers of the cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus (endometrial cancer), vagina and vulva, as well as malignant conditions that can arise related to abnormal pregnancies. Medical College of Wisconsin gynecologic oncologists and radiation oncologists focus on treating gynecologic cancer and offer a full range of treatment options tailored to each individual. Treatment for gynecologic cancer can include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and in therapies offered only at the most advanced cancer treatment centers in the country.

The Gynecologic Cancer Program is one of 15 disease-specific programs offered at the Clinical Cancer Center.

Multidisciplinary Approach

Cancer patients benefit from a multidisciplinary approach, in which physicians unite to diagnose each patient and formulate a treatment plan. Gynecologic cancer patients’ cases are discussed at regularly held conferences, meetings that include specialists in gynecologic oncology and radiation oncology, as well as radiology and pathology. A specific treatment plan, and the order of treatment, is based on each patient’s particular symptoms and health status.

“Cancer treatment depends on the site of origin and the stage of the disease,” said Beth Erickson, MD, Medical College of Wisconsin radiation oncologist. “As a team, we have a unified perspective of what optimal care is for each patient.”

For ovarian cancer, surgery and chemotherapy are the mainstays of treatment. Most often, intravenous chemotherapy is given in conjunction with intraperitoneal chemotherapy, wherein anticancer drugs are installed directly into the abdominal cavity through a small tube. Gynecologic oncologists are experienced providers of chemotherapy and understand its nuances in relation to gynecologic cancers.

Importance of Diagnosis, Staging

“With any cancer, it’s very important to make the right diagnosis, determine the correct stage or extent of the disease, put together a plan, and then constantly reassess,” Dr. Rader explained. “Patients don’t realize how important diagnostic radiologists and pathologists are to the process. Their expert imaging and interpretation of those images is crucial.”

Ovarian cancers have different prognoses at different stages and are treated differently.

“You have to diagnose the cancer correctly in the beginning.” Dr. Rader said. “Without proper diagnosis and treatment, it becomes harder to treat and it’s harder on the patient if it returns.”

Usually, surgery is needed before staging can be completed. Three weeks after her initial surgery, Christianne underwent surgery performed by Dr. Rader to remove remaining cancer from the pelvis.

Christianne was diagnosed with Stage II clear cell cancer of the ovary, a rarer form of the disease.

Clinical Trials Offer Newest Treatments

Shortly after the surgery, Christianne began several months of chemotherapy, and took part in a national clinical trial of a drug focused on preventing cancer from returning.

“For the patient, a clinical trial is a fine-tuned, prescribed treatment with a lot of checkpoints,” Dr. Rader explained. “It can be better than the treatment that would be available without the clinical trial. Clinical trials may truly offer patients the latest of the treatment options available.”

“I believed in the trial,” Christianne said. “It’s a great way to have access to cutting-edge therapy.”

Care Throughout Treatment

Christianne says she went through the chemotherapy with a combination of positive attitude, anti-nausea medication and careful attention to her diet. Through the Clinical Cancer Center’s emphasis on holistic care, patients have access to dietitians, providers who help patients through the psychological, social, behavioral and spiritual aspects of cancer (psycho-oncology nurse practitioners), rehabilitation specialists and other professionals who help patients through their cancer journey.

Christianne also leaned on her fellow dancers, who provided her with a heartwarming level of support. Even though she felt weaker, she participated in a ballroom dance competition during her chemotherapy, determined to focus on something positive.

As she looks back over the last two years, Christianne says her perspective has shifted.

“The cancer taught me that I needed to relax, be more easygoing, and not take everything so seriously. In that way, the experience with cancer has made me a better dancer.”

Today, she continues to see Dr. Rader regularly for follow-up care and monitoring for recurrence.

“The Clinical Cancer Center is such an incredible feel-good place,” Christianne said. “Everyone is so caring and thoughtful. The high level of care just amazed me.”