“You read the scan, and know it’s in the muscle…have you spoken to your children?,” were the words I heard from the world renowned Oncologist who diagnosed me with Stage IV Appendiceal Cancer, a very rare cancer. In fact, appendix cancer is diagnosed in fewer than 1,000 Americans each year. I couldn’t win the lottery? What made the diagnosis even more terrifying was that there wasn’t much information out there about this cancer.
The first group of doctors offered me IV chemotherapy to treat the cancer they left in my body, which they would not remove, and informed me that there was a 2% success rate with this treatment option. I was told there was no other treatment option available. When they scheduled me for surgery to put a port into my chest for the chemotherapy, I told them I would think about it and get back to them. I never went back. Where you are treated first doesn’t always offer the best treatment option.
I heard about the HIPEC procedure for appendix cancer patients from my friends in England, and researched it online. Until recently, many doctors did not perform this procedure, but it is being done with great success in prolonging the lives of those who otherwise did not have long to live. This was now me, as unbelievable as it was.
I learned that Mount Sinai Hospital performed HIPEC, and the hospital webpage made it easy to contact Dr. Spiros P. Hiotis, who called me just a short time later that same day. He was friendly, extremely easy to talk to, and upbeat. I hung up feeling hopeful and some relief.
I cried the entire trip to Mount Sinai from New Jersey. My head was still reeling from the worst news a patient could hear: Stage 4…in the muscle…it was in your body for a very long time…have you spoken to your children yet? I kept thinking how the surgeon stared at the floor the entire time we spoke. Why wouldn’t he look me in the eye? I felt that I must be in really bad shape, and this left me feeling exhausted and hopeless. I hoped and prayed that I was a candidate for HIPEC as we drove over the George Washington Bridge to Mount Sinai Hospital.
I started firing questions the moment I met with Dr. Hiotis:
“Will you have to remove my whole colon?”
“Will I need a colostomy bag?”
“That’s always a possibility, but I don’t see that happening.”
“I’m Stage 4 – that’s really bad, isn’t it?”
“ You can’t let that number get to you”
“Am I a candidate for HIPEC?”
“Yes, go home and relax”
And I did. Dr. Hiotis’ calm demeanor and capable confidence perked me up, and I could feel the uneasiness leave my body as we spoke. I finally had a clear understanding of my diagnosis, and what we were up against – and I was so grateful for that. Even though my diagnosis remained the same, the HIPEC procedure offered a more rational, appropriate treatment. I stopped crying that day. I could breath again. That evening, for the first time since my diagnosis, I relaxed and kicked back with a glass of red wine – and for the first time in months, I smiled.
With the confidence of being in good hands, I focused on getting ready for the HIPEC surgery, which was scheduled 4 weeks later. I awoke from surgery to someone peering over me. I squinted my eyes and saw it was Dr. Hiotis – and even through the haze of anesthesia, I felt blessed and lucky to have found such a smart and caring doctor. I was at home and walking on the beach 5 days later.
That was 2 years ago. Last week I had my two year CT scan, which was free and clear. I went to Macys, bought myself a pair or rockin’ black suede boots and worked the NY Rangers game at Madison Square Garden that night. How cool it was that my check-up day was just another day. I remember wishing for that.
The HIPEC procedure has kept me free of cancer, and Dr. Hiotis and his awesome Practice Supervisor, Paola Pena, continue to keep me upbeat and informed, and help me deal with this crazy thing that has happened to me. Paola has done an amazing job running the practice and providing support to patients, and has become my BFF over the past 2 years.
I told my family that Dr. Hiotis must have taken advanced classes in “How to be Honest without Scaring Patients to Death,” and “How to Deal with a Terrified Woman,” amongst others!
And for all of the little things; the daily, glorious, small wonders of everyday life, I am forever grateful: Waking everyday, loving my family, walking the beach with our chocolate lab and yellow lab puppy, laughing with my 22 year old twin son and daughter, George and Katelyn, watching my 16 year old son, Matthew, play lacrosse, biking with my husband, George, sharing cocktails with my girlfriends, dancing at a Pitbull concert. This life I live, all of these moments, are all courtesy of Dr. Spiros Hiotis, the amazing doctor at Mount Sinai who performed the HIPEC treatment, and helped me get back to life as it was before Stage IV Appendix Cancer. Dr. Hiotis gave me hope when I was hopeless, talked me out of freaking out on more than one occasion, and brought me back to me.
Dr. Hiotis is one of those great doctors that makes you feel you are in the best hands possible – and lucky to be his patient. I hope Dr. Hiotis realizes how much my family appreciates his medical knowledge and expertise, his unmatched skill in managing someone who was terrified and most importantly, his genuine kindness and the wonderful way in which he cares for his patients.
So here I am, living my life – never forgetting how my search for a better treatment option led me to this wonderful doctor who changed my life. It scares me to think about what my life would be like had I followed the initial treatment plan offered to me by that first group of doctors.
I feel great, and I’m having a blast. Everyday is a present wrapped in linen and white paper. There are no words, really – just gratitude.
Victoria Murphy, ”Happy Person Enjoying Life!”