Animal Lover Fights Ovarian Cancer

When pelvic pain forced Michelle Cannava to the emergency room, doctors discovered a tumor the size of a baby’s head. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. 

It’s hard to believe that her deep brown eyes and her smile were once distracted by something else – something physically out of place. But Michelle Cannava shows pictures and explains that there was something wrong – something that she ignored.

She was 49, the mother of three adult children and yet, her stomach was extended well beyond the surface of her slender frame.

It was 3 a.m. in early April when she headed to the emergency room of a hospital near her Brazil, Ind. home.

“I knew going in whatever was happening to my body was bad. It was time to face it but I still hoped it was something less scary than cancer. Cancer was the thought I couldn’t shake,” said Cannava.

Her fears were confirmed. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the fifth in cancer deaths among women. The American Cancer Society estimates a woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer in her lifetime is about 1 in 78. Her chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about 1 in 108. About 22,240 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

September is National Ovarian Cancer Month – a time to remind women of signs, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. The most common symptoms are bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, trouble eating or feeling full quickly, and urinary symptoms such as urgency and frequency.

The American Cancer Society warns that these symptoms may be linked to other conditions but if a women experiences them more than 12 times a month, she should contact her physician.

“I know they call ovarian cancer the ‘silent killer’ because sometimes the symptoms are subtle, and it’s more difficult to detect, but in hindsight I knew there was something wrong for a long time and I had been ignoring the symptoms,” said Cannava, a patient of hematologist/oncologist Dr. S. Hamid H. Sayar.

***

With three adult children, Cannava and her husband Mike Pendley had just made some changes in their life. She left a demanding career in search of what she calls a simpler life.  They sold their large home in an Indianapolis suburb and moved to a 30-acre farm in historical Brazil, Ind.

“We were doing what so many people yearn to do – leaving the rat race to live out the next stage of our lives somewhere tranquil where we could submerge ourselves in what we loved to do rather than what we had to do to make a living,” said Cannava. They downsized to a 1,200-square-foot log cabin and built doggie condos for their five Labrador retrievers. They planted a garden and spent their free time shopping at local flea markets and taking in small town festivities such as horse pulls, tractor demolition derbies and chicken and noodle dinners. Cannava joined the Rotary Club and began volunteering at the local Humane Society. In short, she was enjoying life to the fullest. But she was also working hard to reject the idea that she might be sick.

“I would glance at the pot belly that I had started to struggle with and call it a ‘middle-aged pooch.’  At the same time my brain was saying ‘you know Michelle, sometimes woman suddenly get a belly and discover they have a large tumor.’ Then I would dismiss it because it scared me,” said Cannava.

In November 2017, her volunteer role with the Humane Society changed to a staff position. She was busy managing the shelter, loving on animals, making media appearances and promoting a cause that she was passionate about. But five months into her new position, her symptoms increased – including back pain and reoccurring headaches. She ended up in the emergency room.

“That night they discovered a tumor the size of a baby’s head in my pelvic region. The tumor had pushed my colon to the opposite side of my body, was putting pressure on my bladder and displacing other internal organs,” said Cannava. Surgery followed to remove the mass, along with a full hysterectomy. Two days later, doctors at her local hospital told her she had Stage II Ovarian cancer. She began chemotherapy.

“After my first infusion I began to doubt my choice to be treated at that cancer center. I left every appointment confused and didn’t feel like I was being heard so I started the process of researching other cancer centers in the Indianapolis area and found IU Health Simon Cancer Center,” said Cannava. She began her second infusion within a week and was scheduled for surgery to repair a surgical hernia.

***

“The difference has been incredible. I literally cried my first appointment and felt like I was ready to fight this and had a true team behind me,” said Cannava, who is more than halfway through her treatments. 

“My advice to woman is to not ignore symptoms. I believe there are others out there like me who know something scary is happening to their bodies but are too afraid to face it. Woman have an intuition that more often than not is accurate. I was lucky that the pain became bad enough that I was forced to face it before the cancer progressed to a later stage,” said Cannava. “It would be easy to say that after all the steps we took to simplify our lives that this is unfair but I prefer to believe that God set it up to happen exactly that way. I believe that we needed to be in a more serene setting and I needed to be doing something I loved in order to fight this. The animals I work with seem to sense my illness and have a way of gazing into my eyes and letting me know it’s ok. Together we are saving each other.”

— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email at
 T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.

The Art Of Caring

Shirley Hottman has dedicated countless hours to making quilts and organizing fundraisers for others in need. Now, as a patient at IU Health, she is using art to express her gratitude to others. Her work will be part of the CompleteLife Art Show and will be displayed at IU Health Simon Cancer Center this month.

Purple – it’s her favorite color and it’s also a color associated with strength and healing. As she dips her brush into the vibrant acrylics and spreads the purple paint across a canvas, Shirley Hottman talks about her path to healing.

It was the last day of May when Hottman was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) – a type of cancer that can occur when the blood-forming cells in the bone marrow become abnormal. She and her husband Doug were celebrating their seventh wedding anniversary when she got the call that she needed to see an oncologist/hematologist. Two days before her 60th birthday she went in for a bone marrow biopsy that confirmed the diagnosis. Under the care of IU Health oncology doctors Sridhar Bolla and Robert Nelson, she began chemotherapy. On August 27, with her sister Lynda Lowery serving as her donor, Hottman received a bone marrow transplant.

A former letter carrier, Hottman grew up in Iowa the daughter of Ken and Sharon Hanna. In addition to her sister, she has a brother Randy Hanna. She and her husband go back to junior high where they first met in Iowa. Years went by and they reconnected on Facebook and were married a year and 10 days later.

“Our kids met the night before our wedding and we knew we were in trouble. They got along swimmingly,” said Hottman. Two daughters and their spouses work at IU Health – Matt and Lauren Wolford and Dr. Alyson Craig and Dustin Craig. She’s “Nana” to three grandsons ages 7, 4 and one.

As she talks, Hottman shares pictures of some the quilts she’s made over the years. Deep purple patterns with hints of pink – 30 different pieces of fabric. Quilting is a one of many hobbies. She also knits and crochets.

“There’s probably not a craft I haven’t tried,” said Hottman. Over the years, she’s used her talents to help others. She helped raise more than $280,000 for breast cancer patients through the “Angel Ride to Save the Ta-Tas,” that included an auction of her quilts. Another benefit for childhood cancer, “Journey of Hope,” raised more awareness and funds. For that event in August, Hottman made good on a promise – if they raised $6,000 she would shave her head. She worked alongside her children on a Habitat for Humanity build with IU Health employees, has volunteered with St. Mark’s food pantry and the Gabriel Project that provides assistance to pregnant women.

Life has been a little different since her diagnosis. As she paints, she talks about being on the receiving end of support. The painting includes the phrases: “Being loved deeply gives you strength; Loving deeply gives you courage.” The canvas will be one of several painted by patients and caregivers as part of the CompleteLife Art Show at IU Health Simon Cancer Center. The theme for the show is: “Strength. Courage. Creativity.”

With art therapist Lisa Rainey at her side, Hottman pauses and tries to put into words her inspiration. This is a woman who loves ballroom dancing, hosting an annual shrimp boil for family and friends, traveling to the Florida beaches and mostly helping others.

“It’s very humbling to be helped by others,” said Hottman. “When I got my first chemo treatment goodie bag with blankets and footies, it hit me hard. That’s what we used to give to women going through breast cancer treatment. The only thing I can say is it’s important to stay positive, rely on your faith and support system and take it one day at a time.”

— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health. 
   Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.

Writing Through Cancer

Her blogs have appeared in the New York Times under such headings as: “Sex After Cancer,” “Living With Cancer: The Lure of Alternative Remedies,” and “Lessons on Dying from David Bowie and my Friends.”

Susan Gubar, American author and distinguished Professor Emerita of English and Women’s Studies at Indiana University recently spent time visiting patient Emma Douglas-Roberson at IU Health Simon Cancer Center. As she walked the hallway to the patient’s room, Gubar commented that the visit brought back memories of her hospital stay. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer in November 2008, Gubar remains in the care of IU Health’s Dr. Anna Maria Storniolo.

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month a time to remind men and women of signs, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. For years, it has been called the “the whisper” because symptoms were not thought to develop until the cancer had advanced. However, recent studies have shown this term is untrue and that the following symptoms are much more likely to occur in women with ovarian cancer than women in the general population.

The most common symptoms are bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, trouble eating or feeling full quickly, and urinary symptoms such as urgency and frequency.

IU Health CompleteLife music therapist Emily Caudill met Gubar at one of her writing workshops. Caudill who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2011 had read one of Gubar’s books about her ovarian cancer diagnosis “Memoir of a Debulked Woman.”  After her recent doctor’s appointment Gubar joined Caudill for a music therapy session with Douglas-Roberson, undergoing treatment for Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia.

Gubar, is widely known for the 1979 book “The Madwoman in the Attic,” co-written by Sandra Gilbert. The book examines Victorian literature from a feminist perspective. In all, Gubar has authored 20 books including two about her cancer diagnosis.

Sitting at the patient’s bedside, Gubar signed a copy of her book “Reading & Writing Cancer” and wished the patient well. Gubar donated several copies of the book available to patients through the Cancer Resource Center. In the book’s cover, author Joyce Carol Oates is quoted: “In the intimacy and forth-rightness of her prose, Susan Gubar provides a model for writing that is therapeutic for both the writer and the reader.”

In her books about her diagnosis, Gubar talks about the importance of journal writing as an alternative form of therapy.

“Writing can help all kinds of patients especially cancer patients,” she said. “It’s a great way to remember and go back and reread thoughts. It gives people a sense of monitoring what they are doing and to recognize that it’s not all a nightmare. There are moments of levity and human contact.”

— T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

Now That Deserves A Parade

Lynn Livingston and her daughters are taking advantage of every opportunity to promote organ donation.

The parade isn’t exactly for her but Lynn Livingston is making every opportunity count. It was at an annual parade where her story actually began.

“I donated blood to get a Colts t-shirt and then I got the letter,” said Livingston, a resident of Plainfield. She was attending the community’s annual Quaker Day Parade. A week later she got a letter from the Indiana Blood Center informing her that her liver enzymes were elevated. A doctor’s visit followed, along with months of testing. In October 2001 Livingston was diagnosed with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis. (PSC). The chronic disease is known to damage the bile ducts – the digestive liquid made in the liver. On May 27, 2008 she received a liver transplant.

Married to Dave Livingston, the couple has two adult children. Brooke is a fourth-grade teacher in Plainfield, and Britton, is a nurse who works in the same unit at IU Health University Hospital where her mother received her transplant.

Fast-forward to September 22, Livingston will again attend her annual hometown parade. This time, she will display a sign that reads: “I receive a liver. 5-27-08.” Her daughters will carry signs that read: “My mom received a liver. 5-27-08.”

“Lynn has been a dedicated advocate with the Indiana Donor Network for nearly a decade, volunteering hundreds of hours to raise awareness about this importance of organ, eye and tissue donation,” said Corinne Osinski-Carey with the Indiana Donor Network. “Each year, she spearheads organizing participation in the Quaker Day parade. Her enthusiasm for this event has helped us touch thousands of Hoosiers throughout the year.”

In addition to the parade, Livingston is known for volunteering countless hours at events creating awareness for the importance of organ donation. She speaks to high school and college students, community organizations, church groups and concert crowds. At one event she helped register more than 100 new donors in a single evening (the state average is 71 percent of licensed drivers are registered organ donors).

“I would say the highlight for me and one of my favorite things is mentoring and helping others going through the transplant process, said Livingston, who maintains a social media page called Lynn’s Transplant Groupies.  “I have helped so many patients and their families before, during and after transplant, be it what they should expect right after transplant, or things that can help them at home to make their healing process easier.”

— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email tfender1@iuhealth.org.

Team Approach Results in Patient Comfort

A team at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital recently created a bedside tool to increase the comfort and efficiency for cardiac patients.   

By his estimates, Dr. Wayne Gray may have performed well over 10,000 heart catheterizations. He’s been practicing with IU Health for more than five decades – always striving to get the best results for his patients.

Working alongside him for the past seven years is Troy Johnson, an interventional radiology technician. They’ve become familiar with technique and needs so when a new idea came to the table, Johnson pulled in co-worker Joe Cook, a maintenance team member. Together they recently created and introduced an arm-positioning device that improves access to the patient’s artery.

Dr. Gray read about a new approach to the radical artery puncture site that was less painful to patients. Current positioning devices were not adaptable to the technique so the three men put their heads together, designed a prototype, and introduced it into the operating room.

In the field of cardiology Dr. Gray is known as an early adopter of the radial approach to catheterizations, an alternative to the femoral approach. The procedure used to treat certain heart conditions involves threading a thin flexible catheter through a blood vessel into the heart.

Many patients prefer the radial approach because the radial artery in the wrist is smaller than the femoral artery in the groin. It is easier to apply direct pressure to the puncture site to stop the bleeding. For most patients, radial access does not cause as much discomfort as femoral access and many patients are out of bed walking right after the procedure, said Dr. Gray.

Cook has worked in maintenance at IU Health Ball Hospital for 35 years. His craftsmanship is seen throughout the hospital – he has built the majority of the cabinetry. Similar to Dr. Gray’s records with heart catheterizations, Cook estimates he has built well over 1,000 casings. His work includes a doghouse for the IU Health canine unit and a mock up of Methodist Hospital’s iconic lighthouse of health beacon.

The catheterization positioning board is made of Plexiglas and attaches to the side of the operating table similar to a standard surgical arm board.

“This is a situation where team members saw a need that would increase a positive patient experience and they created a solution,” said Jeff Bird, chief operating officer and chief medical officer for IU Health Ball Hospital.

— T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

Social Worker Helps Patients Reframe Their Lives

Janet Hoyer, MSW, LCSW, facilitates the cancer support groups at IU Health Simon Cancer Center. As a social worker she helps patients recognize their strengths – emotionally, spiritually and physically.

One of Janet Hoyer’s favorite selfies is a close up of her smiling face. She calls it her “joy face.” She says it’s important to help patients find the joy in their lives, no matter where; and that’s what she is about.

Since Feb. 9, 2015 (she remembers the exact date) Hoyer has worked as an outpatient social worker for IU Health spending the majority of her days with oncology patients. One of her roles is as a facilitator for the “Living With Cancer” group, one of several groups that meet during the Cancer Support Group the first Monday of each month. This month’s meeting is September 10 due to the Labor Day holiday. The monthly cancer support group meets in the IU Health Simon Cancer Pavilion Atrium from 5-7:30 p.m. There is a free dinner from 5-6 p.m. followed by break out groups that include art and well-being; brain tumor; children of parents with cancer; coping with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and slow-growing lymphoma; coping with multiple myeloma; and living with cancer. 

Hoyer also facilitates the weekly Cancer Caregiver Support Group Thursdays 2-3 p.m. in the CompleteLife Center at IU Simon Cancer Center. “I never know who will come or what they will bring to the group and it’s always wonderful. Everyday people show me such courage in their willingness to be vulnerable, to heal. That includes the amazing staff I work with here at IU Simon,” said Hoyer.

Hoyer is part of a social work team that helps connect patients with such resources as counseling, lodging, transportation, family support, financial/insurance assistance, and legal aid. Beyond the practical needs, Hoyer also wants patients to recognize their own strengths, abilities and interests.

“They have lives. They go to school, or work, movies with friends, and attend church.  Part of my role, as I see it, is helping them reframe this bout with cancer,” said Hoyer. “Because although we’re dealing with this disease, I want them to remember their interests, who they love, who loves them, what makes them happy, and, oh, yes, that they also have cancer. Whoever walks through the door, I meet them where they are. I call it listening deeply, having a compassionate presence. I stand there with them where they are.”

She often asks patients: “What do you like to do?”  Hoyer understands that in the fear and flurry of diagnosis and treatment, it’s easy to forget about everything else in life.  “They even forget to really breathe.  They put aside so much that mattered to them before the occurrence of cancer, as well as hobbies, projects or clubs, time with friends, almost hiding at home.  I use gentle reminders of self in real life, who they are despite the illness or because of it. Sometimes I may ask, ‘Tell me about how you met?’ and suddenly that older couple dissolve into joyful, precious memories of their lives. “The shift in the room is palpable, miraculous, brilliant,” said Hoyer.

“I love my job. I have learned that patients are so brave. I call it ‘vicarious resilience’ and it inspires me every day.”

More about Hoyer:

  • She has been married to her high school sweetheart Konstantine “Kim” Orfanos for many wonderful years. They have an “amazing” daughter Zoe Orfanos, 27.
  • Before becoming a social worker she worked in commercial property management. “I realized while I was working in that job that what I liked best was talking with the tenants or our staff about their lives, hopes and dreams. Maybe I could help them. Helping inspire others is important to me.”
  • People may be surprised to learn: “That I worked in hospice for about four years. It was like a graduate course in being present with people, on what is important. When someone is at that end of life and their family sees them at that end of life, they don’t care that they didn’t go to college, lost a loan, or blew out a tire on their car. What’s important is what is left, what is now.”
  • Her hobbies include writing, lots of reading, walking, studying the evolution of consciousness, learning anything, aqua aerobics and meditation.

— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email at
T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.

Transplant Patients Team Up For Support

Three IU Health transplant patients recently connected on social media, met for the first time, and have formed a friendship based on mutual experiences.

It’s difficult to measure the depth of appreciation for their donors. They sometimes struggle with explaining their gratitude. Many times, they can be reduced to tears – overwhelmed with the sensation that they have a new lease on life. And sometimes, it’s hard for others to understand those feelings.

But when three IU Health transplant patients recently met face-to-face, the conversation flowed. They understood each other – even though they had only just met. All three received pancreas transplants at University Hospital.

“It’s comforting to know other IU transplant people. We see the same doctors and nurses and share a similar background,” said Greenwood resident Heather Hobbs. She received her transplant on Jan. 21, 2017 after years of treatment for Type 1 diabetes.

Sarah Henderson Powell was also diagnosed with diabetes. The Shelby County native received her first pancreas transplant under the care of Dr. Jonathan Fridell on Nov. 11, 2016. But complications developed. A year later, her body began rejecting the organ. Powell was again listed for transplant and received a new pancreas on Feb. 13, 2018.

“Having support groups online is wonderful but meeting with people in real life is much better. We hope to make it a monthly thing, said Powell. “We sat for over two hours talking about everything from how we are doing to trying to live life after transplant. What was really interesting to me was how even though I was just meeting these women for the first time, we have a bond that not many share.”

Beth Zeilstra reached out to other transplant patients through social media in an effort to create a forum for sharing similar experiences. After 20 years of diabetic highs and lows, she received a new pancreas on June 7, 2008.

“When you go through a transplant, there is so much you don’t know and afterward, you sometimes just want someone to talk to who has similar experiences,” said Zeilstra. “I have found that in these women.”

— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email at
 T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.

Neither Rain Nor Snow, Nor Heat, Nor Gloom Slows This Courier

Before he has even started his workday, George Muller has driven over an hour. Once he gets to IU Health’s pathology lab, he sets his course for a day filled with multiple stops collecting and delivering lab samples. 

The first time he was behind the wheel of a car, George Muller was getting driving instructions from a high school wresting coach who also taught driver’s education. It’s one of the best lessons he learned during high school.

“We did a lot of simulations to learn the braking time and response time,” said Muller, who was 15 at the time. “I was lucky enough to take the course during the winter so he took us to the parking lot and we did donuts so we could see just how quickly we can spin out.”

Today, Muller uses those lessons when he couriers from Lafayette, and around Indianapolis picking up urine, blood, and tissue samples to deliver to the pathology lab. It’s a second career of sorts. Before coming to IU Health he worked as a parts manager.

Between his daily commute, stops at the Rehab Hospital of Indianapolis and IU Health Eagle Highlands, Muller estimates he puts about 200 miles on his hospital-issued electric car. An average of 27,000 daily steps have resulted in a weight loss of about 11 pounds.

“George is our favorite guy. He’s personable and he has a big smile every day,” said Sharon Jiles, a lab assistant. When he arrives at his various stops, Muller puts on a pair of protective gloves, collects samples – frozen, refrigerated, and room temperature – logs them and loads them. Sometimes he makes up to 60 stops a day.

When he’s behind the wheel he passes time listening to his favorite podcasts – mostly focused on his hobbies – woodworking and hunting.

Time is of essence.

“I know there are people waiting to find out the results of the samples and there are people waiting to get busy testing them,” said Muller who has been married to his wife Sharon for 26 years.

There’s not much that slows him down – no road rage, no potholes, no breakdowns.

“Once in awhile the country roads can be slick in the winter. I just go at the speed the roads permit and do the best I can,” said Muller. “I like meeting people but I don’t have a lot of time for chit-chat. I know I need to get to my next stop.”

— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email at
T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.