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Suzanne Klausner

Not What It Seemed

Holy Name Cancer Center - Suzanne Klausner

In the field of medicine, the most obvious diagnosis is often accurate – a sore throat is usually a respiratory illness, a mass on an ovary is likely to be ovarian cancer. But, as Suzanne Klausner found out, this isn't always the case.

It was the spring of 2016 and Suzanne was experiencing discomfort – her stomach was bloated and she had a lot of pressure in her abdomen. She knew she had a spastic colon so she wasn't too concerned, thinking the symptoms were caused by her condition.

But as the days wore on and she continued to feel worse, she made an appointment with Dr. Michael Schmidt, a gastroenterologist at Holy Named Medical Center. An MRI showed a huge mass – 11 inches wide – attached to her left ovary.

It looked like Suzanne had ovarian cancer. Dr. Schmidt's office recommended she immediately see Dr. Sharyn Lewin, Medical Director of Gynecologic Oncology at Holy Name and known nationally for her expertise in the field.

"Dr. Lewin is the most amazing, brilliant and compassionate doctor," said Suzanne, 63. "She told me, 'I will take care of you,' and she did."

Suzanne underwent an intensive four-hour surgery to remove her ovaries. It turned out, however, that she didn't just need a hysterectomy. Instead, Suzanne had appendix cancer that caused her appendix to burst and form the cancerous mass that was on her ovary. She not only needed her ovaries removed but also what was left of her appendix and her omentum – a large expanse of tissue that encases the liver, intestine and stomach.

Suzanne doesn't know when her appendix ruptured – she never suffered any sharp pains or had any other symptoms beyond the ongoing abdominal pressure. Appendix cancer is a rare disease that affects only about 1,000 people annually across the U.S.

If I would have waited any longer or Dr. Lewin didn't schedule surgery so quickly, I wouldn't be here today," Suzanne said. "When she told me she thought I had ovarian cancer, I was petrified but she told me not to worry – she would oversee all my care, surgery, chemo, everything."

Dr. Lewin did precisely that and only a couple of days after surgery Suzanne was up and walking. Though what appeared to be ovarian cancer was in fact, appendix cancer that had traveled, Dr. Lewin's precise surgery and treatment were successful and Suzanne was back to living her normal life after a smooth recovery.

Until a year later, when Suzanne was diagnosed with cancer in her left breast.

"I thought oh my God – I can't believe this," Suzanne said. "But Dr. Lewin told me everything would be okay and helped me find doctors to treat my breast cancer. She just connects with her patients in every way – physically, emotionally and mentally – and makes you believe everything will be fine."

Suzanne had a lumpectomy followed by radiation, all at Holy Name.

"This hospital saved my life," Suzanne said. "Everyone was just spectacular – the nurses, technicians, aides, they all worked together. Today I'm back to living my life. I'm a retired teacher and I'm working part-time in a tutoring school, along with spending time with my friends. I'm so grateful to Holy Name and Dr. Lewin."

Suzanne has also joined the Holy Name Medical Center Guild, a nonprofit organization made up of volunteers who help raise money for the hospital. Suzanne said she believes it is "extremely important to pay it forward and help others, including the hospital and staff who saved my life. I must still be alive as a means of showing my gratitude and helping others. If you give of your heart and persevere in all capacities, then life has a purpose; and this is my main goal in life."

Learn more about Suzanne Klausner's gynecologic oncology doctor today