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Christine Bray

Ovarian cancer - Metastatic

This testimonial includes a description of this patient’s actual medical results. Those results may not be typical or expected for the particular disease type described in this testimonial. You should not expect to experience these results.

View CTCA treatment results for ovarian cancer

Overview

My story

One day in the winter of 2010, when I was 30 years old, I felt a sudden pain in my right side. The pain was sharp and started without notice. Because a snowstorm was on the way, a friend who is an emergency room physician urged me to go to the closest emergency room without delay and I followed her advice.

The doctor received the results of my blood test and he saw that my white blood cell count was extremely elevated. The doctor and others who saw those results were alarmed and asked the gynecologist on call to come see me right away. She drove through the snowstorm to the hospital, gathering information about my medical history on the way. Less than an hour after arriving at the hospital, I was in surgery.

When I woke from the surgery, the doctor told me that she’d removed one of my ovaries, which had been very infected. She gave me a strong antibiotic and sent a biopsy for analysis.

A week later, after spending several days recovering from the surgery, the gynecologist called to tell me that the pathology report had come back. The tissue was cancerous. The shock of this moment is indescribable—and yet, right away when you hear this news, you have to start digesting it and thinking about your next steps, which is exactly what I did.

A long, strange road

Even in the midst of the shock I knew I wanted to speak with my physician friend, who could offer guidance. Together we found a surgeon, and within two weeks of my initial surgery, he performed a laparoscopic hysterectomy and an oophorectomy. He also did a procedure to determine the stage of the cancer. At that time, the cancer appeared to be contained to the remaining ovary, so he diagnosed me with stage IC ovarian cancer.

Soon after that surgery, I went to see a gynecologic oncologist at a large, reputable medical center in Maryland. She recommended three cycles of chemotherapy, a standard approach for ovarian cancer, which I received at a local clinic.

That treatment was difficult, and I experienced all the side effects typically associated with chemotherapy. I was nauseous. I lost my hair. I lost a lot of weight. But the chemotherapy was done soon enough and I was able to enjoy the summer with my daughters.

Around Christmas of 2010, I noticed a strange feeling on my left side. I thought perhaps I had a urinary tract infection, but an imaging scan showed that the cancer had returned and was now wrapped around my left ureter.

The same surgeon who did the oophorectomy and hysterectomy now removed as much of the tumor as possible laparoscopically. He also put a stent in my left ureter to connect my bladder and kidney.

After this procedure, I saw another specialist at a different hospital, who could actually feel that the tumor had already grown back. I had a CT scan that confirmed this suspicion. Between the surgery and this appointment, the tumor had returned. That was a devastating shock and took all of us, including the physician, by surprise. This cancer was extremely aggressive.

Keeping going

I then underwent three cycles of chemotherapy with second-line medications. After the third cycle, I had a strong allergic reaction to one of the intravenous drugs, and my doctor stopped the treatment completely.

But that event triggered my doctor to order a new imaging scan, which showed that the cancer had almost completely disappeared. Whatever remained was tiny and could be removed with surgery, and I had yet another procedure in which several areas that appeared suspicious were removed. None of what was removed was confirmed as cancerous. The doctor was taken aback and kept preparing me for evidence of microscopic disease. But even the microscopic analysis showed no sign of cancer.

My doctor recommended four weeks of radiation therapy to make sure the cancer was killed. The side effects were again difficult, but the cancer responded. At the same time, the stent that had been inserted during an earlier surgery was causing me pain throughout this time and I had to have it replaced every month or two. I was on a strong antibiotic because it kept becoming infected. And I was very weak from all the treatments. Each day was really about surviving, nothing more. My focus was on getting to the next day, and the day after that.

Metastatic disease

For a time, we were hopeful that the cancer was gone. Several CT scans examined by the radiologist showed no sign of cancer. But then on one visit he noticed a spot on my liver. That spot had actually been apparent on an earlier scan but no one had noticed it. The ovarian cancer had metastasized to my liver. I underwent surgery to remove the part of my liver housing the cancer.

During the next year, I was in and out of the hospital with infections. Finally the urologist decided to remove the stent altogether because the infections were so bad. And it turned out that I was fine without it. That was a major step forward. I was still weak from the disease and the treatments. But I was with my daughters all day long, and just stayed focused on keeping a normal routine for us at home.

Another follow-up scan soon revealed the cancer had returned in my liver. I had another surgery and then turned my focus to another phase of recovery. Once my energy  returned, my husband and I took a trip to Spain, which was wonderful. But when we returned I knew, I just knew, that my next scan would show the cancer had recurred. I was correct: the cancer was now in my liver and lymph nodes.

Finding hope and so much more

A friend in Texas told me her children’s piano teacher had gone to Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA). I knew that I needed to talk to someone who was willing to think outside of the box, so I called. Very soon, I was on my way to CTCA® at Eastern Regional Medical Center in Philadelphia.

A friend traveled with me for my initial consultation, and we both felt this was the place. The doctors were willing to treat me, no one was telling me how long I had to live, and the atmosphere was warm and caring.

Dr. Chura told me that his goal was to get me back into remission. He spoke with me about genomic testing, which none of my previous physicians had done. He recommended chemotherapy with gemcitabine and bevacizumab, a drug that prior doctors had avoided because of the side effect risks. I stayed on these medications for nine months, a feat that was made possible in part due to the excellent supportive care I received at CTCA.

For the first time, I had professionals helping me manage the side effects. I saw a nutritionist, a naturopath, a massage therapist, and I received spiritual support, all within the walls of CTCA. And Dr. Chura was so supportive and encouraging. He truly cared about my life. He also included my husband, who joined us via conference calls at my big appointments because he couldn’t be there in person.

After the chemotherapy and then radiation, I began treatment with a drug that had been identified as appropriate for me through advanced genomic testing. With this approach, the tumor genome is analyzed. The results of this analysis identified a potential therapy that would target the tumor’s genetic mutation.  That testing led Dr. Chura to prescribe everolimus. Three months after beginning treatment with this medication, a follow-up scan showed no evidence of disease. And a few months later, the scan results were the same.

Five years later

Five years after my initial diagnosis, it is hard to believe what I’ve been through. I had almost gotten used to the ordeal, the constant fear of recurrence, the treatments, the cycles of hope and despair.

Today, with my CTCA Care Team by my side, I am more hopeful than ever about the road ahead. The genomic testing done at CTCA assisted my doctors in prescribing the appropriate medication, and I will continue to take it for as long as I can.

Looking back, there are so many small miracles to be thankful for. Without that snowstorm, I may not have rushed to the emergency room and the situation could have worsened very quickly. And I had never heard of CTCA before my friend mentioned it. We don’t have a television at home so I hadn’t come across the commercials. But the care provided there has made a huge difference in my life. Prayers from our friends, the support of our church community, and our faith saw me through this incredibly difficult journey, especially when I was wavering.

Today my energy is restored and life is back to normal. I can run and play with my beautiful daughters. I love our family more than ever, and I am so grateful for returning to all that we love to do together, from reading stories at bedtime to going on adventures.

The experience these past five years changed me indelibly. I appreciate life more than ever. And I have learned to forgive and not be bitter about the past. It took cancer to teach me this, but I’m thankful for the lesson.

I still return to CTCA for check-ups, but it’s like traveling to a second home. Everyone knows me and we are all happy to see each other. There is an atmosphere of hope that I had not encountered previously and that I believe contributed to my healing. My goal is to be here for my children for as long as possible, and I am so glad to have so many people helping me get there.