Nurse Gets All Clear On Breast Cancer

IU Health University Hospital nurse Lori Harman recently celebrated the end of chemo with the same co-workers who supported her throughout her diagnosis and treatment.

It was August of 2017 when Lori Harman got a diagnosis that she was all too familiar with. She works as an oncology nurse and the words she heard were: Breast Cancer.

Married to Gabe Harmon, an IU Health police officer, and the mother of Gabriel Harmon, she discovered the lump in her right breast through a self examine. Her doctor Carla Fisher ordered a biopsy that revealed two spots on Harman’s right breast and a spot in her left lymph node. She began chemotherapy on September 11. Harmon was often spotted at work with her IV pole pumping fluids into her system during treatment.

She went through six cycle of Neoadjuvant chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy and sentinel lymph node dissection followed by four more weeks of chemotherapy.

“The pathology came back with no cancer and all margins clear – a complete response.  I continued with Herceptin targeted therapy infusion every 3 weeks for 1 year,” said Harmon.

Her co-workers in the Multi-D clinic organized benefits and offered emotional support during her treatment so when she recently rang the bell – signaling and end to a year of therapy – naturally they were present to celebrate.

October is Breast Cancer Prevention Month – a time to raise awareness of the most common cancer among women. It is estimated that more than 2 million women will be diagnosed by the end of this year. Doctors recommend regular screenings including mammograms – as the most reliable source for early detection.

“I encourage all of my coworkers to take selfies, wearing their pink gowns when they get their mammies. It’s a way to encourage others,” said Harman.

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

IU Health Tipton Hospital Caring Hearts Coat Drive

IU Health Tipton Hospital is partnering with Steele’s Tipton Dry Cleaners and Laundry and ABC & Me at Emanuel Lutheran Child Care to present “Caring Hearts”, a coat drive for Tipton and surrounding areas. Residents are encouraged to donate a new or gently used coat of any size to the coat drive.  The coats will then be cleaned by Tipton Dry Cleaners & Laundry. On November 7th, coats will be distributed to individuals who would otherwise not have a coat for the winter. A simple process, but to be successful, we are asking local residents for their help!

To get involved, individuals should do the following: Look through closets for coats no longer needed, and in good shape/repair, or purchase a new coat to donate.

Bring the coat(s) to a collection site by October 31.

Collection bins will be located at:

  • IU Health Tipton Hospital Main Lobby (Entrance #1) and Medical Office Building North (Entrance #4)
  • Steele’s Tipton Dry Cleaners & Laundry
  • ABC & Me at Emanuel Lutheran Child Care

Coat distribution will take place at IU Health Tipton Hospital, Community Classroom, Wednesday, November 7 from 4:30 – 6:30 pm.

For more information on the distribution of coats, please contact Crissy Proffitt at 765.675.8107.

Photo Caption: Children from ABC & Me help set the boxes out. Pictured L-R: Ellie Floyd, Josie Hiatt, Tiana Beeman and Jillian Anderson.

Philanthropy Ensures Safe Drug Disposal, Safer Communities

What can you do with prescription drugs that are no longer needed? Keeping them around can lead to abuse or accidental poisoning—or make you a target for theft. And though the Food and Drug Administration also allows certain medications to be flushed, doing so with others can contaminate the public water supply. 

Now, thanks to philanthropy programs, two more Indiana University Health hospitals will ensure medications are properly and safely dealt with. Drop boxes at IU Health Arnett and IU Health Frankfort hospitals are safe places where individuals can dispose of prescribed and over-the-counter pills and ointments.

Funding for the drug take-back program at IU Health Arnett was provided by the IU Health Foundation, through the Area of Greatest Need fund for that hospital, and funding for the IU Health Frankfort program was provided by the Clinton County Community Foundation. The grants awarded to both hospitals provide installation and monitoring of the boxes, which are located near the hospitals’ pharmacies and will be accessible to the public during pharmacy business hours. The hospitals will underwrite continuing costs.

Such programs can play a vital role in stemming the opioid crisis plaguing the state of Indiana. “Studies show that many people take their first opiate as a recreational thing. It’s not theirs; it’s something they’ve found in somebody’s medicine cabinet,” said Tricia Lohr, pharmacy manager at IU Health Frankfort. “If someone had a legitimate opiate prescription, after a surgery or something similar, it’s best to get rid of leftover drugs to prevent other people from somehow getting to them.”

Sarah Kennedy, outpatient pharmacy manager at IU Health Arnett, said philanthropy is key to funding extras like drug take-back programs in a hospital setting. “When you open up these programs to the community, it costs money,” she said. “This gives us a chance to reach members of the community we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to, and it makes people aware that these services are out there.” She added that some people might be more comfortable taking medications to a hospital than to a law enforcement agency.

There are a few restrictions to keep in mind when utilizing the boxes. Needles and liquids are not accepted in any form. And, while the boxes won’t be manned by an employee, they will be monitored by both nearby staff and security cameras. “Legally, we cannot touch what a person brings in,” said Kennedy. “And we don’t ask questions.” Kennedy noted that the boxes’ contents are sent to drug destruction services.

In addition to the new locations, the IU Health hospitals that have drug take-back boxes are IU Health Ball Memorial, IU Health Bloomington, IU Health Methodist, IU Health North, IU Health Saxony, IU Health University and IU Health West hospitals. To donate to programs like this one, or your chosen hospital’s Area of Greatest Need, visit iuhealthfoundation.org.

One Kidney Unites Two Employees of Same School

One is a school psychologist; the other is a classroom instructional assistant. These two women work in the same school district but never met until one needed a kidney and the other became her donor.

They met face to face for the first time in the cafeteria at Amy Beverland Elementary School. Beth Williams remembers watching Karen Murphy interact with the children in her care. Murphy is an instructional assistant for special needs students. Williams is a school psychologist. They both work for the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township but they never met until Williams learned that Murphy had a need.

She needed a kidney.

The tears that came down Murphy’s cheeks were a reminder to Williams of someone else who once needed a kidney – her dad. There was a time when Williams had offered to donate a kidney to her father, but it was too late. His illness was too far along. “When first diagnosed, he was advised to find potential donors, and I stepped up,” said Williams. “I remember he wrote a moving thank you and read it in our kitchen with all our family members present.  I only saw him cry twice in his life:  When his mother died and when he read this thank you to me. I was surprised because who wouldn’t do this for a family member?  But we never got far along enough that I was actually tested for compatibility.” 

Her father passed in January of 2016 and her mother passed in December of 2015. When her father was on dialysis, Williams accompanied him to treatment. In a journal of the experience she wrote: “After leaving the building with my husband, I began to cry and I’m not a crier.  I wasn’t crying for my father: He had total short- term memory impairment and didn’t even recall that he was on dialysis.  I was crying for all the people I saw lined around the room in dialysis chairs, young people, middle aged people, people who had to go to this place multiple times a week for multiple hours.  What kind of life is that? Without dialysis, they would die.  That’s a harsh reality.”

***

Williams didn’t know it at the time, but one individual was fighting hard to continue living without dialysis. At age 18, Karen Murphy was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD). About 600,000 people in the United States have been diagnosed with PKD – a genetic disease that leads to cysts on the kidneys. It is the fourth leading cause of kidney failure. Murphy is one of several in her family who suffered from PKD; some lost their battle with the disease. It wasn’t until she was in her 40s that her numbers began to change and she began seeing IU Health nephrologist Dr. Robert Bacallao.

“From day one he told me his goal was to keep me off of dialysis and if he didn’t, he would consider himself a failure,” said Murphy. She continued regular visits with Dr. Bacallo for 20 years. Then four years ago she had an appointment with Dr. Tim E.  Taber, who specializes in kidney disease. He broke the news to her: She needed to start looking for a kidney donor.

There are currently 121,678 people on the waiting list for kidney transplant in the United States. The National Kidney Foundation estimates more than 3,000 new patients are added to the list each month. That means every 14 minutes someone new is added to the list.

“I remember my first thought was ‘how am I supposed to do that; where do you even start and how do you ask someone for something like that,?’” said Murphy, who is married with two adult daughters. It was one of her daughters who started a Facebook page in May of 2017 “Help Find a Kidney for Karen Murphy.”

One of the first posts read: “If anyone sees this I’m asking for your help. Please share my post. I need to keep the word out there. You never know who is reading it and they may feel moved to call and find out more about being a living kidney donor. It may be something they have thought about before.”

***

In fact, Williams had thought about donating a kidney before. A teacher friend shared the post. Williams recognized the name but had never met Murphy.

“I saw her post and could not put it out of my mind.  It was like constantly being tapped on the shoulder,” said Williams, who has been married to her husband, Chris for 32 years. They are the parents of a son Jordan and a daughter Sarah.  

“I discussed it with my husband, and eventually my kids.  I knew that this was a serious commitment and if I made it, I didn’t want to back out,” said Williams. Once she made the decision, she asked to meet Murphy in person. “When I told her I would be tested, she started crying and hugged me.  I guess this reminded me of my own father’s response years ago.  I had this very strong feeling that at this point it was a ‘done deal’ and that I knew that I would be a match,” said Williams.

In fact she was a match.  On June 1, 2018, under the care of IU Health surgeon William Goggins, Murphy received Williams’ kidney. Dr. Chandru Sundarum was Williams’ surgeon. The post on “Help Karen Murphy Find a Kidney” read: “I received the gift of a new life and I am so grateful for my donor and her gift. I came home yesterday and I couldn’t feel better. I am looking forward to this new chapter of my life. . . .Thank you to everyone who has followed me in this journey.”

Three months after surgery, Williams was back in the OR with Dr. Sundarum. This time she was observing a laparoscopic nephrectomy performed by Dr. Sudaram. Observing a surgery was something she had always dreamed of and after her own surgery the opportunity became available.

“I thought it was absolutely fascinating . . . was impressed with the diversity of the surgical team and how well all are orchestrated,” she said after the experience.  Nearly four months post surgery, Williams vacationed in Spain and says recovery is much easier than she anticipated. 

“I have felt the ongoing appreciation from Karen, and I love hearing about her health improvement,” said Williams. “At this point, I have this donation in the rear view mirror and I’m happy it’s behind me. I physically feel exactly the same as before surgery. I’m glad it’s over but I’m happy I did it, and given what I now know, I would do it again.”

And for Murphy, the meeting with Williams is somewhat of a miracle.

“Mr. Lefty, as we call my new kidney is working like a champ. My experience through all of this has been wonderful. I can’t say enough about the employees of the hospital. From the parking staff, housekeeping, food service – everyone made me feel so welcome,” said Murphy. “Then we have the nurses, doctors and office staff. I left the hospital to begin a new life and I felt I was so ready, there wasn’t a question or concern that wasn’t addressed.”

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

IU Health Tipton Hospital Donates to local Boys and Girls Club

IU Health Tipton Hospital recently made a $20,000 donation to the Boys and Girls Club of Tipton County. The donation will be used to support the organization’s ongoing activities and healthy lifestyle initiatives for area children who are members. The Club’s mission and programs align with IU Health’s mission of improving the health of the community.  

“We are pleased to support the Boys & Girls Club and the structured and safe environment they provide to the youth in the community”, stated Michael Harlowe, president & CEO of IU Health Tipton Hospital.

Continuing to build on the partnership between the hospital and the Boys and Girls Club we will be introducing health programs and activities in 2019. Team members from the hospital will be present at the club to offer programs and activities surrounding nutrition and healthy snacks, medication safety, exercise, health careers, drug abuse & mental health, etc.

Through September of 2018, the Club has served 400 registered members. Of those 400 members, 190 members participated in summer programming at the Club. A new focus for the organization in 2018 is Community outreach. The Club has served over 500 youth through special programs and services since January of 2018. The Club has seen a growth in the number of teens attending. There are over 60 registered members in grades 6 – 12. Over the course of the membership year all Club members are provided with programs and opportunities that focus on Academic Success, Good Character & Citizenship and Healthy Lifestyles.

“The mission of the Boys & Girls Club of Tipton County is ‘To enable all young people, especially those that need us most, to reach their full potential as caring, productive, responsible citizens.’ The Boys & Girls Club of Tipton County is mission focused and works very hard to fulfill the mission in the life of every youth they serve, be it through a Club membership or through community outreach programs” stated Amanda Mendenhall, the Club’s Executive Director.

The Boys and Girls Club is currently registering new members for the 2018-2019 membership year. If you are interested in learning more about the programs and services provided by the Boys & Girls Club of Tipton County, please contact the Boys and Girls Club at 765.675.9362 or visit their website www.bgctipton.org.  

Dental Lasers

While there have been many miraculous advancements in dentistry over the past few decades, including digital x-rays, HealOzone and the DIAGNOdent, none has made as significant an impact as laser dentistry. Gone are the days of uncomfortable dental procedures; laser dentistry has made oral health care easy and even…pleasant.

There are numerous uses for lasers in dentistry—both hard and soft tissue procedures. Dentists can use laser dentistry to remove decay, fill cavities, perform root canals, whiten teeth, reduce tooth sensitivity, as well as a variety of gum and bone surgical procedures. While it is a very versatile instrument, probably the greatest benefit of using a laser is that it is painless—a plus when having any sort of dental procedure! A laser can also eradicate any bacteria that have formed in your mouth, saving you from additional treatments down the line. They also reduce the amount of time you spend in the dental chair; another huge plus, especially for those that have anxiety about seeing a dentist. Most people who are apprehensive about seeing a dentist are not fond of the dentist’s drill—the noise, the smell, and the pressure of the traditional drill are enough to make some people avoid the dentist altogether. The introduction of lasers in dentistry alleviates all those issues. The laser can be used for both the teeth and the gums and doesn’t produce heat, vibration or pressure, making the procedure virtually painless. By utilizing a laser in dentistry, there is less need for anesthesia and its use reduces bleeding, swelling and post-operative pain. It also reduces the need for pain medication after the procedure, as well.

A dentist can use the dental laser to remove tissue from the tooth, or the gum while leaving the surrounding tissue untouched. Less of your tooth structure is affected, which helps you maintain your natural teeth for a longer period of time.  Using the traditional, high speed drill can cause small cracks in the teeth and can damage the healthy parts of the teeth. The laser’s precision helps to minimize any hairline fractures in teeth and reduces trauma in the gum area, reducing the bleeding and pain. This means fewer trips to the dentist, too; it is a much more precise way to provide less invasive dental care than traditional dental drills.

If you are suffering from gum disease, you will love the new dental laser. When plaque and tartar build up under the gums, they become swollen and inflamed. Previously, metal dental tools were used to scrape underneath the gums to remove this built up tartar. Needless to say, this process can be uncomfortable, but laser dentistry can eliminate this discomfort. The laser can break down the tartar without having to insert anything underneath the gum line, and a laser will cause less irritation but still provide a thorough cleaning.

Lasers can also improve the appearance of your smile and had even has uses in cosmetic dentistry. For people who need a ‘smile makeover’ the laser can be used to fix imperfections, reshape the gums, removing excess gum tissue from a ‘gummy’ smile and re-contouring the look of an imperfect smile. The laser can finely sculpt the gum line in a short period of time and with little discomfort. Not only is laser dentistry an effective and precise way to re-contour a smile, it also provides the most attractive results and a quick healing process. Ask your dentist about your desired smile requirements and laser dentistry options.

Dental lasers also work well on hard tissue, like tooth decay. The dentist can limit the laser’s scope, concentrating on the decayed section of the teeth and curbing the invasiveness of the process. Lasers can assist in more complex procedures, like placing dental implants Okc or extraction of a tooth, by curbing the amount of bleeding. The laser can even promote healing by stimulating your gum tissue, which results in less irritation and less bleeding.

Dental lasers are changing the face of dentistry. They offer many benefits to patients in addition to gum contouring and the removal of decay; the help to preserve the natural gum and teeth due to the precision of the laser. This results in a faster recovery time, less scarring, fewer anesthetics and less bleeding, swelling and discomfort. If this isn’t enough, including tissues can be regenerated, surgery times are faster and infection is minimized due to laser sterilization. Lasers can be used for many purposes, like the detection of cavities, the filling of cavities, and even teeth whitening treatments. Best Dentist in Okc can also utilize them to remove tumors, cold sores and even seal nerve endings, creating the least amount of pain for the patient.

Laser dentistry is so gentle; many dentist Okc use it as an option to traditional dental methods, even when treating expectant mothers. Pregnancy creates hormonal changes that leave the gums sensitive and tender and many women don’t see the dentist during pregnancy due to tooth sensitivity. Those same hormones can also make the expectant mom more susceptible to gum disease and cavities. Laser dentistry eliminates any apprehension because it is fast, accurate and comfortable, as well as perfectly safe during pregnancy for both the mother and her unborn baby.

While dental lasers are more expensive for the dentist initially, the investment is well worth it. The quality of oral health care is elevated, time is saved and the ability to service patient’s faster means a dentist can see more patients, and the patients are happier, too! The advanced technology of the laser allows the regular dentist to provide services that were previously referred to specialists. This saves you the additional time and expense of seeing another dentist. Less discomfort means more satisfied patients, one that is more likely to maintain their oral health care on a regular basis. New technology, like revolutionary lasers are making dental offices all over the country safer, more efficient and more comfortable for the patient. If you were once hesitant about scheduling a dental procedure, there’s no better time than now!

Free Overdose-Reversal Kits and Training on Sept. 28

People in Central Indiana will be better equipped to reverse an opiod overdose thanks to a naloxone giveaway and training available throughout Indianapolis on Sept. 28, 2018.

Indiana University Health and Indiana University Health Foundation have partnered with Indiana University, Overdose Lifeline and the Indianapolis Public Library to host naloxone training and distribution sessions at IUPUI and four Indianapolis public library branches.

Free intranasal kits containing the drug naloxone will be handed out to the first 1,000 attendees across all locations. Naloxone is often called by its brand name, Narcan, and can be administered by anyone.

Attendees at the sessions will learn how to identify signs of overdose and how to administer the drug. Training takes approximately 20 minutes. IUPUI will also host a panel of experts who will discuss the ongoing crisis and address the stigma surrounding addiction.

The schedule for the Sept. 28 events is:

  • 8 am: panel discussion at Hine Hall, IUPUI, 875 W. North St.
  • 9 am and 10 am: naxolone distribution and training, at Hine Hall, IUPUI, 875 W. North St.
  • Starting at 9 am and continuing every 40 minutes: naxolone distribution and training at four library branches:
    • Decatur, 5301 Kentucky Avenue
    • Glendale, 6101 North Keystone Avenue
    • Haughville, 2121 West Michigan Street
    • Irvington, 5625 East Washington

Reservations are not necessary, but can be made via Eventbrite.

“Responding to the addictions crisis” is the third of Indiana University’s Grand Challenges initiatives, which bring together community partners and IU researchers to solve Indiana’s biggest problems. The $50 million project aims to prevent and reduce addictions in Indiana, in part by educating Hoosiers on the causes and consequences of addiction, and by offering tangible solutions that will stem the flow of opiates through our communities and reduce the deadly impact of these drugs. 

For more information about how you can contribute to fight the opioid epidemic and other health concerns, visit iuhealthfoundation.org.

Myeloma – Treatment Mile by Mile

Pam Taylor, a founding committee member of the Miles for Myeloma fundraiser and education symposium talks about her treatment for the second most common cause of blood cancer.

As she sits with her husband and sister, wrapped in a blanket receiving infusion, Pam Taylor talks about a two-day cycling event that has raised millions of dollars for a disease her body is fighting.

For the 14th year, myeloma patients, family members and IU Health practitioners have taken part in the 200-mile bike ride – “Miles for Myeloma.” This year’s event – September 21 and 22, culminated with a dinner and education symposium. Started by IU Myeloma researcher and IU Health physician Dr. Rafat Abonour, the event has raised more than $5 million toward increasing patient care, support and advocacy.

“This event is important for several reasons. First, raising awareness about the disease and obviously raising money for research which is the only way they are going to find a cure,” said Taylor. She was diagnosed in November of 2002.

“I had a couple of broken ribs and persistent low hemoglobin,” said Taylor of her symptoms. She visited several specialists and eventually became a patient of Dr. Abonour. “Since 2002 I have been on just about every drug available to treat Myeloma. I’ve had two stem cell transplants, several rounds of chemotherapy including a four-day hospital admission for a continuous drip. My life has changed and I guess I feel like my new normal.” For someone who once enjoyed fishing with her husband of 25 years, William David “Dub” Taylor, she now feels tired and experiences shortness of breath and nausea.

When she was at her best Taylor was able to join her niece Sarah Honchul for a portion of the relay – a memory that still makes her smile. She speaks highly of the man who started the two-day ride and continues to participate – Dr. Abonour.

“He’s the best. He’s compassionate; he’s very knowledgeable and is renowned in the professional world traveling all over talking about myeloma. He doesn’t make decisions for me, he makes decisions with me,” said Taylor. Her sister Tamra Honchul added: “He focuses on the patient’s quality of life not just the treatment. He encourages patients to take trips, visit family and see the world.”

From 2005 to 2015, Miles for Myeloma raised $3 million for Multiple Myeloma research at the IU Simon Cancer Center. Since 2016 Miles for Myeloma has been a joint effort, supporting both myeloma research at the Indiana University School of Medicine and enhanced Myeloma patient care at IU Health Simon Cancer Center. 

While Myeloma is an incurable disease, laboratory researchers are focusing on connecting the relationship between Myeloma cells, the bone marrow and the bone in order to prescribe therapies that target characteristics of the disease. Additionally new drugs and treatment options are being explored through clinical trials.

“Every day I hope is a day closer to finding a cure,” said Taylor. “Right now we’re having a big problem because a lot of the treatments have stopped working which is why it isn’t curable. I’m hopeful and holding out that I’ll get into a clinical trial.”

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

Co-workers Support Mom of Two Young Sons

When an IU Health Arnett certified nurse anesthesiologist was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) her co-workers came out in force to show support.

“My mom saved my life.”

Jing Yang speaks the words slowly but sincerely as she describes her diagnosis. At 37, Yang was busy raising her two sons – ages 9 and 23 months – and enjoying life with her husband, Allen Garner.

“When you have young kids, you just keep going. You don’t stop to think about what might be wrong. You focus on your family,” said Yang. But it was her mom who noticed Yang was more pale than usual and suggested she see a doctor.

“I felt healthy. I like to go swimming, play Badminton. I take my son to tennis and soccer. We like to read and play basketball. I was busy and couldn’t imagine being sick,” said Yang.

A certified nurse anesthesiologist, Yang is the third generation of nurses – both her mom and grandmother pursued the profession. “I didn’t feel any different and I didn’t think I looked any different but my mom thought better,” said Yang. She also had several bruises on her legs.

“I was almost embarrassed to go to the doctor because I didn’t feel sick. I just had bruises and I didn’t know how I got them,” said Yang, who was born in China, the only child of Shanmin Yang and Guanghua Wang. Her parents moved to the States in 2000 and have moved in with Yang and her family since her diagnosis. A graduate of Albany Medical College in New York, Yang joined IU Health two years ago.

It was the evening of July 24 when she received the news. She had just finished giving the boys a bath. Her husband was on active duty with the Navy and was in Washington, DC. He returned home immediately and they began lab work to confirm the diagnosis. Chemotherapy followed and now Yang is awaiting a bone marrow transplant.

Her co-workers at Arnett have said Yang is always smiling. They love her laugh and her upbeat personality. They describe her as a sweet caring team member and practitioner.

On September 29, her co-workers will host a bone marrow registry at the Arnett Family Fun Day 5K Run/Walk. Anyone in good health between the ages of 18 and 44 can be tested with a simple cheek swab. Registration can also be completed online at www.bethematch.com. The best match for Yang will be someone of Chinese or Asian decent. 

“Oh my gosh, my co-workers have been amazing,” said Yang. “I was not expecting it at all. They are so supportive mentally and physically.” They have volunteered days off to be with her during her hospital stay, helped raise funds, donated their time off, connected her with support groups, and assisted with researching treatments and providers.

“So many days they let me know they care just by sending me a text or calling me to Face time and say, “Hi.’ I am so grateful for their support,” said Yang. “ One of the things I like best about nursing is helping people – making them feel safe and comfortable, and becoming a patient advocate. Now I’m seeing that from a different side.”

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

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.