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Mary Jane Bisanzo

Cancer-free after Chemobath

Holy Name Cancer Center - Mary Jane Bisanzo

Breast cancer was rampant in Mary Jane Bisanzo's family – eight loved ones including her mother, brother, maternal uncle, aunts and cousins had all been diagnosed with the disease. Their doctors suggested genetic testing and not surprisingly, Mary Jane tested positive for a mutated gene – BRCA II. This meant she was predisposed to developing melanoma and breast, ovarian, colon and pancreatic cancers.

She immediately consulted with four top oncologists, who told her because of her family history, she had only a 7 percent chance of staying healthy. After talking it over with her husband, she decided to have a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction and to remove her ovaries.

But only three days after her mastectomy in 2002, she was told she had cancer in both breasts and would need chemotherapy. Fortunately, she tolerated the treatment well and was healthy for 15 years.

In November 2017, however, she started to feel very bloated and her pants weren't fitting. Tests showed she had stage 4 ovarian/ peritoneal cancer that had spread throughout her abdomen and to her chest. The peritoneum is the membrane that lines the abdomen and the organs within it, including the ovaries. It is similar to and treated like ovarian cancer.

"When the doctor gave me my diagnosis, I felt like he was talking about someone else," Mary Jane said. "I knew some cancer cells could have been left behind from my surgery years ago and they could eventually grow in my abdomen but I still couldn't believe it."

She chose to go to a large medical center in New York City for a consultation, but waited hours to see the physician. "Then I felt like he had no time for me – I didn't want to be operated on by him."

At the same time, Mary Jane's husband, Mark, was seeing physicians at Holy Name Medical Center and one of them recommended Dr. Sharyn Lewin, Medical Director of Gynecologic Oncology at Holy Name. Dr. Lewin is known nationally for her expertise in gynecologic cancer.

"Seeing Dr. Lewin changed everything – she is phenomenal," Mary Jane said. "I feel so blessed that she is my doctor – I just can't give her enough credit."

Dr. Lewin needed to shrink the tumors before surgery so she wouldn't have to remove such large amounts of tissue, including a portion of Mary Jane's colon. Mary Jane had weekly chemotherapy for several months before undergoing a 7 ½ hour surgery at the end of May 2018. The procedure included hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy ( HIPEC), a heated chemotherapy ( sometimes called a chemo bath) that is delivered directly to the abdomen.

Holy Name was one of the first hospitals in the area to offer HIPEC. It allows higher doses of chemotherapy to be applied directly to the cancer cells and minimizes the rest of the body's exposure and the side effects.

"The surgery and chemo bath were not a big pain event for me," Mary Jane said. "Dr. Lewin is an exceptional doctor. She is very kind and truly cares about every patient. She was wonderful in keeping my son, who is a doctor in Vermont, and my other doctors well informed about my diagnosis and treatment. She does what she says she is going to do. She is very very special.

"And I'm very grateful to my husband and son, my faith and the wonderful people at Holy Name who got me through this. The care from the doctors, nurses and aides could not have been better," she added. "They all went over and above what is expected. After a very frightening diagnosis there were so many beautiful people who were really outstanding. I'm almost three years out from my surgery and I'm still cancer-free."

Learn more about Mary Jane Bisanzo's Gynecologic Oncology doctor today