Cancer - Claribel D.
Over the last eight years, Claribel Dare has experienced highs and lows. But, as the 71-year-old retired school teacher and church organist understands, the music of life goes on.
In 2003, Claribel’s days were filled with teaching, playing the organ every Sunday, and spending time with her family. She had started a new exercise program and was feeling good.
That’s why she was surprised when her doctor discovered a tumor on one of her ovaries. Soon after, Claribel underwent surgery. Pathology tests showed she had early-stage ovarian cancer. As a precaution, her doctor prescribed six sessions of chemotherapy.
For the next few years, life was good. Claribel retired after 35 years of teaching, and a granddaughter was born.
“Even so, I knew there were no guarantees the cancer was gone,” she recalls.
Claribel’s doctors monitored her regularly. For several years, everything was normal. As the fifth anniversary of her surgery approached, her blood test results shot up, indicating the disease had probably returned. That’s when she went to see gynecological oncologist James Lilja MD, and a CT scan revealed a tumor in her abdominal cavity.
Dr. Lilja planned surgery. He also recommended Claribel have a new treatment called Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy (HIPEC) now in clinical trials at Good Samaritan Hospital. The procedure is designed to kill any cancer cells that may remain in the patient’s abdominal cavity after surgery. It improves absorption of chemotherapy drugs with minimal exposure to the rest of the body. This also helps avoid some of chemotherapy’s side effects.
In May, 2009, Dr. Lilja removed the tumor and, with Claribel’s abdominal cavity still open, introduced a heated sterile solution containing the chemotherapeutic agent. The solution was continuously circulated for about 90 minutes before it was removed and Dr. Lilja closed the surgical incision.
After she recovered from surgery, Claribel underwent additional outpatient chemotherapy under the guidance of oncologist Tom Chen MD. More than a year since her last treatment, doctors continue to monitor her condition closely and studies show she is cancer-free.
“Now, I just take things one day at a time,” she muses. “But, I must say, if you have to get cancer, there is no time like the present. We are so lucky to have exciting new treatments like HIPEC.”
For Claribel, life is still good. She exercises, sees her grandchildren whenever she can, and enjoys playing the two pianos in her home. On Sundays, since she has retired from her organist position, she can sit back, relax and let the music play on.