“I never gave a thought to going to Boston.”
It was probably the worst birthday of her life. In the summer of 2012, Sheila Burque – an administrative assistant in the Surgical Oncology Department at the UMass Memorial Cancer Center – was about to turn 56 when, a few days before the event, she felt a lump in her belly button.
“That was on a Thursday,” she recalls. “Then over the weekend I started to get bloated until I looked like I was nine months pregnant. It happened so quickly, and it was very scary.
“I called my primary care physician, Demosthenes Agiomavritis, MD, that Monday morning and said that my belly was hard and distended,” she continues. “He saw me at 10:15 and had me wait in the office while they arranged an urgent CT scan the same day.”
Prior to her sudden, severe bloating, Burque had experienced absolutely no symptoms to suggest that anything might be wrong. Her scan, however, along with additional testing, revealed what appeared to be ovarian cancer. She was referred to gynecologic oncologist Susan Zweizig, MD, for a definitive diagnosis, staging and treatment, which would involve surgery and chemotherapy.
Her surgery was extensive, and included a complete hysterectomy – performed by Dr. Zweizig – as well as removal of her appendix and spleen, to which the cancer had metastasized. This part of the surgery was performed by oncologic surgeon Laura Lambert, MD, who happened to be Burque’s boss.
Given the extent of her disease, Burque was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer.
“It all happened really fast,” Burque recalls. “Two weeks after my initial tests I had surgery, and three weeks after surgery I started chemo.”
Dr. Zweizig explained to Burque that she was an appropriate candidate for IP chemotherapy.
“I’d never heard of it before, but I had no hesitation about undergoing the treatment,” Burque says. She understood that it wasn’t going to be easy.
“I ended up in the emergency room once with nausea and vomiting,” she relates. “I was unable to keep anything down for 24 hours. Another time, I went into atrial fibrillation (Afib) from the chemo, and ended up being admitted overnight for that. But it resolved.
“I also had neuropathy in my hands and feet, but it went away,” she adds.
Today, three-and-a-half years – and three happier birthdays – later, Burque has returned to work and she says simply, “I feel fine; I have no residual effects from the treatment.”
Until recently, Burque saw Dr. Zweizig every three months for a follow-up exam and CA 125 test to monitor for the presence of ovarian cancer tumor markers in her blood, a likely sign of recurrence.
“But I just graduated to exams every six months,” Burque reports. “That makes me feel good.”
Burque also feels good about the care she received at UMass Memorial.
“I definitely felt confident that I was in the right place,” she says. “I never gave a thought about going to Boston.
“And I’m very grateful to have had a good primary care doctor in place, someone I could count on when I had a problem,” she adds.