Anya Khomenko, survivor of ovarian cancer, explains how she believed she would soon die following her diagnosis. Justin Chura, MD, highlights how the outlook has improved for patients.
PUBLISHED December 21, 2017
Maurie Markman, MD: Welcome to CURE® Expert Connections®. I am Dr. Maurie Markman, president of medicine and science at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, and your host for today’s program on ovarian cancer. Although there are often symptoms with ovarian cancer, many of these symptoms are common to other potential illnesses. Some women have no symptoms at all until the disease has spread. As a result, many women are diagnosed at an already advanced stage of the disease. Despite this, the outlook for ovarian cancer is improving. Overall, patients are living longer. Many have stable disease and a good quality of life for years.
Today, we are focusing on recent treatment advances and how patients are living longer with ovarian cancer. We are fortunate to have Anya Khomenko here to share her story. Anya was diagnosed 15 years ago with ovarian cancer. Also here with us is Anya’s oncologist, and my colleague, Dr. Justin Chura, chief of surgery and director of gynecologic oncology and robotic surgery at Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
We’re going to begin with a discussion of the awareness of signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer. But before we do that, I’d like to ask Dr. Chura to briefly update all of us on the survival data and quality of life issues in ovarian cancer, and explain how that’s improved over the years.
Justin Chura, MD: To your point, patients are living longer with ovarian cancer. For some patients, it becomes a chronic disease. And then with that longevity can come accumulated toxicity and side effects from treatment. As we improve or extend survival, we also have to make sure we’re maintaining quality of life and improving upon what we focused on with survivorship, so that our patients have meaningful extensions of their survival. I do Anya no favor if I make her live longer but she can’t get out of bed every day. If she can’t go and do the things she wants to do with her husband, how am I helping her?
That survivorship is a very important part of the treatment equation as we plan and map out our strategies for treating patients. So, survival is improving and patients are living longer with the disease, which in turn means we have to think how they can live well with their disease.
Maurie Markman, MD: That’s a very good point. Now I’ll turn to Anya. As I mentioned, you were diagnosed with ovarian cancer 15 years ago?
Anya Khomenko: Yes.
Maurie Markman, MD: Going back to the beginning, did you have symptoms prior to your diagnosis? If so, what were they? How did you deal with them? What did you think about them at the time?
Anya Khomenko: Yes. At that time, I was working as a computer analyst and it was a stressful job. I did start having symptoms of bloating, something like weight gain. At first, I attributed it to a change of life. I didn’t pay much attention to it. And then my mom insisted I see a doctor. I said, “I’m just gaining pounds after pounds after pounds.” She said, “Go to the doctor.” And finally, I went to the doctor, had a CAT scan done, and it was a very difficult part of my life. I was summoned to the office. I understood that things were not looking good. I brought in my mom and Victor and the doctor said, “You have cancer, stage 4.” And my husband said, “Well, how many stages are there?” And the doctor said, “Four.” So, I prepared to die.
Maurie Markman, MD: This was 15 years ago.
Anya Khomenko: That was 15 years ago. And then I brought in jewelry to my daughter and said, “I want to give it to you while I’m still alive.” Then, I had a surgery and chemotherapy. And after that, I started having hope. My daughter brought me back my jewelry.
Maurie Markman, MD: Wonderful.
Anya Khomenko: Things started looking better.
Maurie Markman, MD: You look spectacular.
Anya Khomenko: Thank you.
Maurie Markman, MD: But I can’t tell how you feel. I know how you look, and you look wonderful. How do you feel today?
Anya Khomenko: I feel wonderful. It’s been a great 15 years. There were ups and downs, but it was a wonderful life. I thank God for every moment of it.