A Life Saved--Then Changed
A month before her 49th birthday, Amy Lindh had her annual exam and was told everything looked good. A month later, she was short of breath, losing weight, and throwing up black clumps of blood with long tentacles she describes as “spiderlike.”
Considering her history of digestive issues and complicated periods, she passed off the symptoms. After her husband encouraged her to see a doctor, she underwent a series of tests and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“I really thought they were going to tell me I had irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease,” Amy says. “I was not expecting ovarian cancer.”
Amy’s husband cried when they received the diagnosis, but she was relieved to finally learn there was a reason for her symptoms and it wasn’t just in her head.
Amy’s family doctor referred her to Melanie Bergman, M.D., a name Amy also found while doing her own research. A week later she was in surgery.
Specialized Oncology Care Close to Home
As a gynecologic oncologist, Dr. Bergman handles complicated surgeries that regular OB-GYN practitioners don’t feel comfortable doing, including administering cancer surgeries and treatments.
When asked about the team at Providence Gynecologic Oncology Clinic in Spokane, Dr. Bergman says “it’s unique.” With 40 fellowship spots per year and roughly a thousand fellowship-trained gynecologic oncologists across the country, she and two other doctors provide the only care of this kind in Spokane, drawing patients from outlying regions when specialty care is required.
With cancer spreading throughout Amy’s diaphragm and abdomen, Dr. Bergman and her team performed a specialized debulking procedure to remove the cancer, followed by two types of chemotherapy, intravenous therapy as well as intraperitoneal chemotherapy given through a port in her abdomen.
Upon learning Amy had a double lumpectomy to treat breast cancer in 2001, Dr. Bergman conducted genetic testing. When that test returned positive, Amy had a preventative double mastectomy based on Dr. Bergman’s recommendation.
Comprehensive Care for Women
With surgeons, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, Dr. Bergman and the team round out the specialties needed in a comprehensive women’s care model.
“We interact with other specialties falling under the women’s health umbrella at Providence, including obstetrics and delivery, internal medicine, pelvic floor and reconstructive surgery, as well as urogynecology and reproductive endocrinology. We offer long-term care and hopefully long-term survival. If not, we offer comfort through end-of-life care as well.”
“We’re passionate about taking care of women,” Dr. Bergman emphasizes. “Otherwise we wouldn’t go through 16 years of training to do it.”
Since joining Providence, Dr. Bergman and her team have opened the very first gynecologic clinical trials to advance treatment methods, and currently have two open trials.
Building Lasting Relationships
“Because you’re in the fight of your life, you form a different bond with your oncologist than you may with your general doctor,” says Amy. “Dr. Bergman has a genuine care for keeping people free of this disease.”
“The journey,” explains Dr. Bergman, “and I keep using that word because it is a journey, is that you meet a patient and they have something that has now changed their life. They never thought they’d get cancer. We bond with them. I have been caring for some patients for 19 years and that’s rewarding.”
Amy expresses gratitude for her entire care team at Providence, noting one nurse who stood out. “My chemo nurse changed her schedule so she would be there when I came in for my treatments. Who does that?
Today, nine years after her first treatment, Amy is cancer free and continues to show no evidence of the disease that changed her life.
“The only reason I’m here is because I had a very awesome oncologist,” Amy says.
A Life Beyond Cancer
Amy’s post-cancer life isn’t only more optimistic, it’s more full than ever. She worked with Providence to set up a gynecologic cancer support group, and even travels to Washington, D.C. once a year with medical staff to advocate for ovarian cancer funding, testing and research. With some encouragement from Dr. Bergman, she’s also competing in triathlons.
“Those are things I would never have done on my own,” Amy says. “They encourage you to live a fuller life and reach out and encourage other women going through this. They look at you as more than a patient.”
Knowing When to Seek Treatment
“I’m a big believer that patients know their own bodies,” says Dr. Bergman. “If you think something is wrong or has changed, even a subtle change, you should go to your general practitioner.”
“It mimics other conditions,” Amy says. “If I have flu-like symptoms for three or more days, I know it’s not the flu. Ovarian cancer is something that can’t be detected on a Pap smear. Twenty-two thousand women a year will be diagnosed, and about 12,000 will die because they wait
too long. If you can get to a good gynecologic oncologist early your survival rate goes up considerably.”
Amy encourages anyone whose life has been impacted by ovarian cancer to get involved with a support group and to accept the care of those around you. She attributes her success and survival to her husband Jay, her Deer Park community and the Providence care team for the support she received and continues to receive.
“As women, we’re caregivers,” says Amy. “We also need to learn to accept care from others when we’re not well.”
Virtual cancer support groups, including the gynecologic support group, are available to all, including those who are not patients of Providence. Please call 509-474-5490 or email PHConcologynavigator@providence.org if you’re interested in attending.
Read the full spring issue of Heart Beat magazine here.