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Rebecka Hess

Grateful for Every Day and for Clinical Trials

Holy Name - Rebecka Hess

Standard chemotherapy fell short in treating Rebecka Hess’ ovarian cancer – the disease returned with a vengeance. Now, she’s receiving specialized medication through a clinical trial at Holy Name that is holding the cancer at bay and giving her a better quality of life.

Rebecka, a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, travels to Holy Name from her home in Philadelphia every three weeks for an infusion of mirvetuximab soravtansin. The trial medication is a chemotherapy that works by attaching to and then killing cancer cells with minimal harm to healthy cells.

She has access to this advanced treatment through the Soraya clinical trial, led by Dr. Sharyn Lewin, Medical Director of Gynecologic Oncology at Holy Name. Dr. Lewin is a board-certified gynecologic oncologist, known nationally for her expertise in treating complex and advanced cancers. Her practice uses a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach for all patients, spanning diagnosis to recovery, from providing the latest surgical options to offering a number of clinical studies for gynecologic cancers.

Rebecka, 61, said the 12-hour days – including travel and care time – she endures to receive her treatment are well worth it. While the treatment is typically a short-term solution – working in most other study participants for an average of about six months – Rebecka’s cancer hasn’t progressed much for more than a year. She’s been able to enjoy spending time with her two sons and continue working.

“I know this drug isn’t going to work forever but I’m so grateful that I was able to get it and that it is working so well for me,” she said. “I’m very proactive in my treatment. With Dr. Lewin’s help, I’m looking for my next trial, for when this drug is no longer effective. Dr. Lewin and her team are just incredible – so kind and professional. They work around my schedule and make the whole experience as pleasant as possible.”

Rebecka was originally diagnosed in Dec. 2017 after feeling some bloating and discomfort in her abdomen. Following a friend’s advice who had similar symptoms, she went for an ultrasound and learned she had ovarian cancer. At the time, her youngest son was just 15 years old. Rebecka’s hope was to still be around until he at least turned 18. He has reached that mile marker and she’s feeling well, but it hasn’t been easy.

During the last several years Rebecka has had three different types of standard chemotherapy, which often sapped her energy, robbed her hair and left her with no appetite. The last one simply didn’t work.

“When you’re first diagnosed, there are so many unknowns. You don’t know how long the effect of treatment will last but I felt like there’s no sense living in fear wondering if and when the cancer will come back,” Rebecka said. “We took family trips and I worked full-time. I get annoyed at all the usual things that bother everyone like when the dealership doesn’t fix your car right the first time. I feel privileged I’m here to get annoyed by these trivial issues.”

The medication that Rebecka is currently receiving is available only through clinical trials. It’s used in cases of recurrent ovarian cancer that doesn’t respond to platinum-based therapies.

“What I’ve found through all my research is that there are thousands of trials going on. You don’t have to go to big academic cancer centers to access them,” Rebecka said. “Dr. Lewin keeps me updated if she hears of new ones starting and I keep looking for other medications to fight this disease. I’m continuing to be proactive and I’m just grateful for every day.”

Learn more about Rebecka Hess’ gynecologic oncology doctor today