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Karen Dottino

“Still Me” After Cancer

Holy Name Cancer Patient stories - Karen Dottino

Just as every cancer diagnosis is unique, so too, is the emotional response it triggers. For Karen Toy-Dottino, she feared her treatment and disease would make her unable to work and in turn, she might lose herself. She had been a high school teacher for so long, it isn’t just what she does. It's who she is.

These thoughts swirled through her mind as she woke from her colonoscopy to hear that a small growth had been found. She was shocked – she had no symptoms and had gone for the routine screening because she turned 50. She had colon cancer.

“At first I got really panicky but then I settled down when I saw how these amazing specialists had everything under control,” Karen said. She soon met with Dr. Christine Seo, a colon/rectal surgeon at Holy Name Medical Center.

“Dr. Seo was on it and she knew exactly what to do,” Karen said. “She’s so professional and dedicatedand I felt very comfortable in her care. I felt like I was pointed in the right direction with her.”

Dr. Seo’s plan for Karen’s treatment included radiation with oral chemotherapy, and then surgery. Karen was deeply concerned her treatment would interfere with her job as a high school teacher. She didn’t want to give up days of work and worried about the treatment schedule.

“I know it may sound crazy but I identify very strongly with my job – it’s who I am,” Karen said. “The fear of losing that was horrible.”

Dr. Peter Wu, a radiation oncologist at Holy Name, took time to explain to Karen how they could work her 5-day-a-week, 6-week radiation sessions around her schedule.

“I was really upset when I started talking to Dr. Wu,” Karen said. “He handed me a tissue and we went through the schedule. And that was it. It was the last time I got upset. Both Dr. Seo and Dr. Wu prepared me for what could happen but I felt strong because they were so positive. They made me feel like I could handle this and keep going.”

Karen tolerated her radiation and chemotherapy treatments well. She had a bit of nausea but Dr. Wu prescribed some medication, which kept it under control. She was mildly fatigued and didn’t miss any work while receiving radiation.

In addition, her treatment worked better than expected. At the end of her radiation sessions, the tumor was almost undetectable and Dr. Seo was able to perform a same-day surgery.

During this time, the COVID-19 pandemic had hit. Yet Karen had no reservations about going into the hospital for her procedure. She said seeing the temperature checks, masks and social distancing guidelines in place reassured her that she would be safe.

“Everything was like a well-oiled machine at Holy Name,” Karen said. “And what was probably the best part of my whole experience is how often staff members asked how I was doing with everything else in my life. They weren’t just concerned about my cancer but about me as a person. None of my friends who have had cancer talk about that type of care and diligence in other hospitals.”

Today, Karen is still teaching and eagerly looking forward to classes being back in-person full time. She has recovered fully and said she is so thankful to everyone at Holy Name who was involved in her care.

“I didn’t have to stop being me,” Karen said. “The doctors, nurses and staff members made me feel that once I got to the end of treatment, everything would be ok. And it is. I’m so relieved – and grateful.”

Learn more about Colon Cancer treatment at Holy Name