“It’s a beautiful day, and I’m glad to be here,” said Mary Meyer, 68, of Slinger. Her gratefulness and relief stem from beating endometrial cancer that had metastasized, or spread, to her liver.
“I grew up during a time when it was common for people to believe they couldn’t survive cancer, so when I found out I had endometrial cancer, I was terrified,” Mary said.
The first indication of a problem came when she had difficulty breathing, and a CT scan revealed blood clots in her lungs. She was admitted to a hospital and treated with blood-thinning medication, which seemed to help her recover quickly.
But a few months later, Mary experienced abnormal vaginal bleeding. Her doctor referred her to Ashley Wanless, MD, obstetrician/gynecologist at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Pleasant Valley Health Center. Dr. Wanless ordered imaging and blood tests and did a procedure called a dilation and curettage to collect tissue samples for evaluation. Pathology results confirmed endometrial cancer, also known as uterine cancer.
Gynecologic Cancer Treatment
To ensure Mary received the cancer-specific care she needed, Dr. Wanless referred her to Erin Bishop, MD, a gynecologic oncologist and MCW faculty member who sees patients at the Cancer Center at Froedtert West Bend Hospital. Dr. Bishop ordered a CT scan of Mary’s abdomen and then performed a minimally invasive, robotic hysterectomy in August 2016 to remove the tumor along with the uterus. A hysterectomy is often performed for endometrial cancer to reduce the risk of recurrence.
The CT scan showed a tumor on Mary’s liver.
While the results of the CT scan were unsettling, Mary found comfort in her care team. The next step was to biopsy and evaluate cells from Mary’s liver and compare them with the endometrial cells recovered during her hysterectomy.
“Everyone was wonderful,” she said. “The radiologist who did the biopsy said, ‘Just remember, cancer is not a death sentence.’ During that scary time, her words gave me hope.”
Because accurate diagnosis is critical in effective treatment planning, Froedtert & MCW pathologists each specialize in specific cancers or related groups of cancer. The pathology team reviewed Mary’s tissue samples and concluded that the liver tumor was a result of metastasis from the primary cancer, meaning her endometrial cancer had spread to her liver.
Although Mary’s cancer had metastasized, which can be challenging to treat, physicians who specialize in each specific cancer collaborated on her care.
Dr. Bishop consulted with liver cancer specialist T. Clark Gamblin, MD, MS, MBA, a surgical oncologist and MCW faculty member.
Within the Froedtert & MCW Cancer Network, disease-specific specialists and other clinical experts involved in each patient’s care collaborate within multidisciplinary tumor boards to review medical history, imaging and pathology results, and to plan treatment. Mary’s team recommended that treatment begin with five cycles of chemotherapy to reduce the size of the liver tumor and make it easier to remove with surgery.
Dr. Gamblin removed the tumor and part of Mary’s liver in December 2016.
“She tolerated the procedure well and her recovery was normal,” Dr. Gamblin said. “She’s blessed that her cancer was detected early. It is rare to have endometrial cancer that spreads only to the liver — there is usually more than one metastasis. Mary is a brave woman, especially in the midst of uncertainty.”
Mary was particularly appreciative of her physicians’ compassionate approach, which often put her at ease. “Dr. Gamblin understood my fear and anxiety,” she said. “He jokes around with me, which I really enjoy.”
The Froedtert & MCW Cancer Network’s nationally recognized gynecologic cancer and liver cancer teams understand the nuances of each disease and provide the most accurate diagnosis and effective treatment for each person’s unique situation. Because the physicians work in teams that focus on specific diseases and treat large numbers of patients, they remain current with treatment trends, even those not commonly available.
“Studies clearly show that complex liver surgeries should be done at an academic medical center where they are performed often,” Dr. Gamblin said. “At Froedtert Hospital, we perform at least 150 liver operations every year, mostly to treat cancer.”
The same is true for gynecologic cancers: Studies have shown that patients treated by gynecologic oncologists tend to do better than those who receive more generalized cancer care.
An added benefit for patients is that MCW cancer experts are also researchers, finding new ways to treat the cancers in which they specialize. This gives patients access to the most advanced therapies, including clinical trials when appropriate for the patient.
“I’ve always been afraid of going to the doctor, but my doctors listened and made me feel comfortable,” Mary said.
She has had no signs of recurrence since her liver surgery in 2016. Mary is enjoying retirement and is grateful for the comprehensive care she received.