Karen Hanno– Appendix Cancer Patient Story
Karen Hanno, of Oakmont, PA, has always been very active and in good health aside from a longstanding cyst on her right ovary. However, when she began having pain in her lower abdomen unlike she had experienced before, she knew she had to go see her doctor.
Karen was referred to Madeleine Courtney-Brooks, MD, MPH, a gynecologic oncologist, who recommended they remove her uterus, tubes and ovary for concern for a possible cancer. However, during the procedure, Dr. Courtney-Brooks saw cancer on her appendix and scattered tumor nodules throughout the abdomen. She had her ovaries and appendix removed and the pathology showed a mucinous appendix cancer. Karen was then referred to Melanie Ongchin, MD, FACS, a surgical oncologist at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. “We are from Pittsburgh and everyone hears great things about Hillman. I knew I would be taken care of there.”
In October 2020, Karen started 3 months of chemotherapy and had her second surgery in February 2021 where she was recommended to have a cytoreductive surgery and hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemoperfusion (CRS/HIPEC). In that procedure, Dr. Courtney-Brooks performed a hysterectomy followed by Dr. Ongchin removing the tumors in her abdomen, including on her spleen, gallbladder and part of her colon. Other organs were scraped to remove cancerous cells. This surgery combines removing any visible tumor followed by heated chemotherapy to treat any microscopic cancer cells. It is a surgery which has been used to treat advanced cancers that have spread to the abdominal cavity.
Since CRS/HIPEC is generally an unknown treatment and appendix cancer is rare, Karen’s family did a lot of research on the procedure. This, along with assurances from Drs. Ongchin and Courtney-Brooks’, left Karen less apprehensive about proceeding, “I didn’t have a choice. I had to get treatment,” she said. “Dr. Ongchin and Dr. Courtney-Brooks along with their respective staff members were all extremely informative and forthcoming with information. Their empathy and expertise made us feel very comfortable with the decisions that needed to be made. “
After the CRS/HIPEC procedure, Karen underwent additional chemotherapy to kill off any remaining cancerous cells, and continued treatments until February 2022. Since then, Karen has been treatment free. She gets routine scans and bloodwork done and meets with Dr. Ongchin’s team to monitor her progress. As of May 2022, Karen’s scans continue to be clear.
“The care I received from both Dr. Ongchin’s and Dr. Courtney-Brook’s teams was the best of the best!”