Linda S

Pennsylvania Woman Undergoes Extensive Surgery with Heated Chemotherapy to Treat Rare Abdominal Cancer

Linda Swisher

Cancer survivor Linda S. with husband, Bob

Linda S. had suffered from colitis for years and had a history of gallstones, so the 57-year old was not too alarmed when she felt pain in her side while at work one afternoon. When the pain in her side got more severe, however, she asked her husband to take her to the ER in Altoona, 20 miles from their home in central Pennsylvania, where doctors first thought she might be having an attack of appendicitis.

A CT scan showed something much more serious. “I was told that I had ovarian cancer, and I was in total shock,” she recalls. In a blur of activity over the next few days, she was transferred to a hospital in Danville for surgery, where her surgeon found not instead of an ovarian tumor, she had a rare type of cancer known as primary peritoneal malignancy. It was only the second time doctors there had seen the condition, and they recommended she see a specialist who treats complicated cases of gastrointestinal cancer.

“The University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center (UMGCC) was one of the places on the list, so we called and spoke to Beverly Warren (administrative assistant in the Division of Surgical Oncology). “Beverly put us right at ease and arranged for us to come down and see Dr. Nader Hanna (professor of Surgery and head of Surgical Oncology), a specialist in gastrointestinal cancer.”

That first meeting with Dr. Hanna gave Linda a tremendous sense of reassurance. “I brought my two sisters along with me to take notes,” says Linda, who was still somewhat overwhelmed with her diagnosis. “He talked to me for an hour, explaining that the type of cancer I had (“peritoneal surface malignancy”) was quite rare, and that it had spread extensively throughout my abdomen, including a lot of my organs. He told me about all the risks involved in the operation. As frightening as it all was, I just got a good feeling from him and knew that this was the doctor I wanted to take care of me.”

The surgery involved first taking out all the old scar tissue, then removing the abdominal lining, spleen, gallbladder, and all the visible tumor tissue in a process known as “tumor cytoreduction.” While still in surgery, Dr. Hanna then introduced a heated solution of anti-cancer drugs into Linda’s abdominal cavity for two hours to kill any remaining hidden cancer cells. This technique is called Hyperthermic Interperitoneal Chemotherapy or HIPEC.

“My surgery lasted over 14 hours, and I have an incision that goes from my breast bone all the way down to my pelvis,” she notes. A very active person who typically walked two miles a day before her surgery, Linda was released from the hospital in just nine days, far sooner than the estimated three weeks she was told to anticipate.

“Dr. Hanna calls me ‘a miracle lady.’ But, I think there were a whole lot of miracles involved here,” says Linda. “God put us in the right place at the right time with the right doctor.” She is immensely thankful for the care she received at UMGCC, from Dr. Hanna’s compassionate care and expertise (“I love Dr. Hanna; he is a heck of a nice guy”), to Beverly in Dr. Hanna’s office –(“my new friend”), to Micky Hryzan, R.N., the nurse on 10 West who Linda credits with “going out of her way to take care of me.”

Linda is gradually regaining her strength and gaining back some of the weight she lost. She says that her cancer experience has been “reality check” for her and her husband of 22 years. “I’m so blessed to have a loyal husband, a close, supportive family, good friends and a strong faith.” Asked how her life changed since her cancer surgery, she becomes thoughtful: “We don’t work as much on weekends anymore. We appreciate things more. We’ve learned to slow down and just really enjoy our life together.”

For more information on the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program, HIPEC, and other advanced cancer treatments available at UMGCC, please call 1-800-888-8823.

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