September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month
Eve Spiegel, RN, BSN, OCN, ONN-CG, breast nurse navigator at AtlantiCare Cancer Care Institute shared her cancer survivor story to help encourage people to seek treatment early and not to dismiss any abnormal pain.
A few weeks after Spiegel celebrated her 50th birthday in Mexico in February 2020, she came home and developed sharp abdominal pains and fever.
She went to the Emergency Department at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center (ARMC). The doctors performed a CAT scan, and discovered a blood clot in her spleen.
“I was admitted to the hospital for four days. The doctor who comes to see you when they find you have a blood clot is a hematologist, but they’re double board certified in oncology also,” Spiegel said. “I work with these folks because I am the nurse navigator for the breast cancer patients at AtlantiCare’s Cancer Care Institute. I’ve been working with them since 2016. I didn’t think I’d be on the patient end of the spectrum, but that’s what happened.”
AtlantiCare Manager of Media Relations and Public Affairs Jennifer Tornetta said Spiegel will meet with patients who have breast cancer before, during and after their care, including the day of their surgery.
“She’ll usually have phone conversations with them before their surgery. She’ll help navigate any concerns or questions they have, and she is there when they have their surgery and she’ll help coordinate their treatment so she’s really their right-hand person,” Tornetta said.
Dr. Loreta Garretson, M.D., hematology oncologist at AtlantiCare’s Cancer Care Institute, was one of the doctors who came in to see Spiegel.
Spiegel said for the next couple months, Garretson continued to watch her closely and recommended specialty care visits and tests. Spiegel said she still didn’t have a blood reason for why she developed the blood clots.
Spiegel said she then developed two episodes of postmenopausal bleeding in May and June that year.
Eve and her care team knew she had an ovarian cyst, but up to that point, the size warranted monitoring it, not removing it. “Plenty of women have ovarian cysts that are benign and never become anything, but that was really the only thing that was abnormal besides this clot in my spleen, Spiegel said. “She [Garretson] said ‘let’s do a transvaginal ultrasound,’ which I did and that did show that it was slightly bigger than the CAT scan from the hospital.”
Six weeks later in August 2020, a second transvaginal ultrasound showed the cyst was growing and the result said “suspicious for neoplasm,” which means an abnormal growth or cancer. Spiegel was fortunate that she was diagnosed early.
“Ovarian cancer tends to be found in a stage four, which is usually after the patient is very sick, organs are very affected and they almost require a cleaning out of the body and systemic chemotherapy. I was very fortunate I was a stage 2B,” Spiegel said.
According to Spiegel, ovarian cancer is known for being the silent cancer.
“Until women are very sick with it, they don’t know they have it,” Spiegel said.
Spiegel said getting care right away was crucial.
“It was crucial because I had actually an acute problem of the blood clot. I had no idea that I had that, and that was the symptom that I was getting from the abdominal pain. Finding out you have a blood clot, they want to know right away and get you on blood thinners so that you don’t get a blood clot in your brain or in your lungs or your extremities that affect your circulation,” Spiegel said. “Blood clots can kill us. This one was very weird and lodged in my spleen, so obviously my blood was going through some changes of clotting and sometimes that can be a result of developing cancer.”
On Oct. 8, 2020, Spiegel had minimally invasive gynecologic robotic surgery at ARMC to remove her ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus and cervix, followed by chemotherapy at AtlantiCare’s Cancer Care Institute. The caregiver had become the patient of the team with whom she was so accustomed to caring for patients.
“I had my surgery Oct. 8 and then within a two-week period, my pathology was completed and it was positive for stage 2B ovarian cancer,” Spiegel said. “My surgeon, gynecologic oncologist Robin Wilson-Smith told me based on the pathology results, I would have developed uterine cancer shortly as well.”
After she was cancer free, and now more than two years after completing her treatment, Spiegel continues to maintain visits with Garretson, and all of her screenings. She’s also sharing her story – including this month – which is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
Tornetta said Spiegel has always been an advocate for “get screened, get tested.” Tornetta advised that if something is not feeling right, just ask.
Cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence, Spiegel said.
“I’m hoping that with my story, women know that they need to follow the signs their body gives them, get their medical care, get their screenings and just be aware of themselves so that they get what they need,” Spiegel said.
“Cancer in general, whether I’m caring for my patients or myself, when you’re told you have cancer, it’s a very surreal moment,” Spiegel said. “Even now being over two years out of it, it’s still extremely surreal to me that I went through what I went through and how different I am and healthier I am now after cancer than I was before.”
For more information about AtlantiCare, call the AtlantiCare Access Center at (888) 569-1000, visit www.atlanticare.org or follow AtlantiCare on Facebook.