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By: By Sue Phillips, cancer survivor
Who knew a health expo visit could lead to a life-altering experience?

Who knew you could get such quality and varied experiences by attending a health expo?
I didn’t.

My Mom was intent on going to the WNY Health Expo in 2012. I wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic, but drove from our North Tonawanda homes to the Hamburg Fairgrounds Expo. Turns out, I was the one to benefit most.

Participating in Roswell Park Cancer Institute’s “Spit for the Cure” was rewarding, since a similar program aided a cure in a family member’s cancer. I was pleased to see Deaf Adult Services as a vendor at the Expo. At nearly every job I’ve worked, I’ve been able to use my limited Sign Language skills, which had always been appreciated by not only the deaf community I came in contact with, but by my employers who would call upon me when they thought I could be of assistance.

A back massage, from a local chiropractic service, was a welcome relief at the Expo!

One display table at the WNY Health Expo 2012, made me stop in my tracks. It was the WNY Ovarian Cancer Project—a newly formed non-profit, though I didn’t know it at the time.

A cancer survivor spoke with me. I was taken aback, speaking with a “survivor” of cancer.
Turns out I spoke with Hamburg resident Candace Carberry, who Co-founded of The WNY Ovarian Cancer Project, along with Kathleen Maxiam of Pendleton, NY.

I read the display table placards about symptoms lasting more than two weeks. I was having some of those symptoms myself, including pelvic/abdominal pain, feeling full quickly, and being fatigued. It’s often said that women explain symptoms away, to the point of ignoring them. I didn’t feel that way. I felt like something was awry.

Six friends had passed away that month. I felt grief. But, I was feeling otherwise not right. Candace listened to my concerns. She encouraged me to be checked for cancer.

I explained it had taken several doctor and surgeon visits to be listened to about my injured shoulder, before I was finally checked and received two consecutive shoulder surgeries. After explaining what it took to be listened to about my shoulders, Candace said she KNEW I would follow up to be checked for cancer.

Within weeks, blood work and an ultrasound were completed. I’d had a cytopathology screening for abnormal cells in April.

Then, I received two phone calls, both from doctors—one phoning me directly from the airport, on her way to vacation. “You need to be looked at as soon as I get back. Call my office right now, to make the appointment.” No sooner had I hung up from that phone call, when my primary care doctor’s office was phoning me as well. “Listen, you need to be seen.”
Okay. I knew things were serious.
I thought I was in the process of moving, but an unscrupulous Wheatfield landlord made that impossible. My belongings were packed—my treatment maybe needed delaying—but testing could continue.
By April’s end, I’d had extensive blood panel testing. An unsuccessful biopsy attempt was made in May. I had more blood draws. By June, I had a follow-up ultrasound. I had a second unsuccessful biopsy in July. By September, a successful biopsy was performed. The biopsy sample was sent and examined same-day by a local lab. Dr. Magdi Sayegh informed me my biopsy results were in. He informed me they were “not good.” He informed me I had “cancer.”

It was not “the dreaded phone call” that I received. It was a confirmation phone call.
My demeanor had not changed. I’d known something was amiss back when I received two phone calls within a minute of each other, both from doctors, one, at the airport, awaiting departure. I did not dread the word “cancer.” I was informed by the word cancer.
I was told I had endometrial cancer, “early to intermediate stage” at best guess.

Surgery was imminent and forthcoming. Fortunately, I was moved into a new residence.
What concerned me was my weight. I’m a large woman. It was recommended I have robotic surgery. Having found out robotic assisted surgery works best for obese patients, I was without hesitations.
Once I got the cancer diagnosis, it was all about setting myself up for success.

The internet was a welcome source of information both pre- and post-surgery. I looked up which foods to avoid, specific to endometrial cancer and which foods to add to my diet to help fend off toxins.
Knowledge is power—taking away fear. I wanted my Mom to be prepared, with a clue, rather than worry needlessly in the waiting room, if surgery got lengthy. There were videos of robotic surgery, similar to what I needed, available to view online. My Mom, a retired nurse, had no qualms about watching surgery videos alongside me.

I was referred by Dr. Sayegh to Dr. Pankaj Singhal, a gynecological oncologist expert and Director in the Division of Minimally Invasive Robotic Surgery through SUNY University at Buffalo.
Singhal’s online ratings by patients were at 100%. My online research showed Singhal’s success rates to be 99%, compared to national success rates of 95-97%. Additionally, Singhal trains physicians in robotic surgery. I felt like I was in great hands.

Several online robotic assisted cancer-surgery videos feature Dr. Singhal at the helm. That robotic assisted surgery enables such detailed work, as intricate as finely threaded lace, I was optimistic that my cancer could be removed. My Mom and I even watched a video of problematic surgery. The surgeon explained what the team was doing, why, and how it worked out, whether more invasive surgery would or wouldn’t be necessary. After watching the videos, I believe my Mom and I had equal confidence.
Getting in better physical shape before surgery was important to me, to not feel so weak afterwards. It paid off. I was up and walking within two hours of surgery. To the delight of nurse staff, I walked the halls many hours, including around and past midnight, since I was in the hospital overnight. I’m a night-owl by nature, and being in the hospital didn’t change that.
The surgery was a success. It was performed by both Dr. Magdi Sayegh who performed the successful biopsy, and by Dr. Pankaj Singhal, site Director of Robotic Surgery at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital.
I am cancer-free now—in follow-up mode. For two years, I follow-up with the oncologist every three months—then it changes in frequency. I feel better.

It became time to thank the lady at the Health Expo in Hamburg, who suggested I get checked for cancer. I’d looked unsuccessfully online to find her. My Mom reminded me the expo had been in February. We’d look for 2013’s forthcoming expo. Despite the weather possibilities, we’d be going to that expo
The date finally arrived. I found the name of the non-profit online the very day of the expo. I knew then who to look for.
We made it to the 2013 WNY Health Expo.
I made a beeline to The WNY Ovarian Cancer Project table.
I could barely wait for Candace to finish talking with a visitor. I had to tell her I spoke with her last year, she listened, she advised. I followed up. I did have cancer. I had endometrial cancer. I had surgery. I am now cancer-free.

Who knew a health expo visit could lead to a life-altering experience?



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