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Pathways to Discovery: Spring 2011

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Aggressive Therapy, Friendship Help Patient Survive Ovarian Cancer

UChicago is a great place for cancer patients because we have so many experts who can roll with the punches to develop the best individualized treatment plans.
—Diane Yamada, MD

When retired teacher and homemaker Sondra Hannafan was diagnosed with advanced Stage III ovarian cancer in April 2006, she described it as the most devastating news someone could receive—other than the death of a loved one. “It’s your own life that you see perhaps ending rather quickly,” she said.

Anxious to find the best care, she and her husband, Mike, researched where to go for treatment. After interviewing with oncologists at three teaching hospitals, the Hannafans turned to The University of Chicago and called Diane Yamada, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology.

Dr. Yamada agreed to see the Hannafans the next day to discuss treatment options. “When you know that you have cancer, you want surgery or whatever treatment done yesterday,” Sondra said.

The treatment plan was intense: hysterectomy and debulking surgery followed by intraperitoneal chemotherapy, known as a belly wash, and a 6-month course of chemotherapy every 3 weeks.

During the course of treatment, Sondra experienced a severe reaction to the chemotherapy. Dr. Yamada collaborated with other UChicago physicians to determine the cause, which was a rare response to cisplatin. A different chemotherapy agent was then used.

Not Just a Number
The Hannafans were pleased that Dr. Yamada, as a gynecologic oncologist, was with them through every step of the process. Mike said, “Dr. Yamada is very caring and professional, and she has a good sense of humor, which helps in very difficult situations.”

Sondra said she was most surprised when she received a phone call at 9:00 p.m. from Dr. Yamada, who wanted to check on her. “You’re not just a number. And I found that wonderful,” Sondra said.

Almost 5 years later, Sondra is enjoying life and filling her days with volunteer activities, traveling, and babysitting her grandchildren. Dr. Yamada said Sondra’s treatment was effective because of a combination of aggressive surgery, effective chemotherapy, and her own tumor biology.

“On the 5-year anniversary of her survivorship, I am thrilled to see her doing so well and living life to the fullest,” said Dr. Yamada.

The Hannafans return to UChicago every 4 months for blood tests and to see Dr. Yamada, who they are proud to call their friend. “She always comes into the examination room with a smile and a hug,” said Sondra.

Dr. Yamada said she feels gratified to see more advanced-stage fallopian tube, ovarian, and primary peritoneal cancer patients living longer with a combination of aggressive treatments.

“UChicago is a great place for cancer patients because we have so many experts who can roll with the punches to develop the best individualized treatment plans,” Dr. Yamada said. “In Sondra’s case, we depended on quite a few people to weigh in on her care, and I think this has paid off in dividends. She is truly a wonderful patient with a keen spirit who should be an inspiration to others.”