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Genetic Testing Aids Cancer Diagnosis

Happily retired and happily married, Michele Allison was looking forward to a new chapter in her life, especially since her then 18-year-old-son, Alexi, was on the cusp of a major milestone — high school graduation.

However, sudden shortness of breath and severe leg pain sent her racing to the AHN West Penn Hospital emergency department. Michele, who is usually healthy, knew something was very wrong. “I was so sick and so worried. My body was a mess.”

A CT scan revealed a large, volleyball-sized mass in her pelvis, which was causing the blood clots in her leg and lung. The large mass required a hysterectomy; however, Michele required another procedure before surgery.

Blood clots and cancer meet surgical expertise

The combination of bleeding and blood clots made treating Michele complicated. To prevent additional blood clots from reaching Michele’s lungs during surgery, AHN Dr. Eirwen Miller, MD, placed an inferior vena cava (IVC) filter. Next was Michele’s hysterectomy.

As Dr. Miller performed Michele’s surgery — removing the uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, and both ovaries — she discovered that the large mass was attached to Michele’s colon. “We had to take a piece of the colon with it. We sent it to pathology during the operation which confirmed the presence of uterine and ovarian cancer.”

Final pathology delivered results as well as hope, confirming that the cancer was contained and hadn’t spread. This, along with the goal of seeing her son graduate, helped Michele face the long road ahead, which included six cycles of chemotherapy. Michele celebrated her own graduation of sorts after her last chemotherapy treatment, ringing the bell with Dr. Miller by her side.

Along with the support of her family, Michele especially appreciated all the ways Dr. Miller helped her navigate all the ups and downs of her cancer diagnosis and treatment. “Dr. Miller really listens to her patients. That’s what makes her special.”

Genetic testing reveals breast cancer

Due to having both uterine and ovarian cancer, Michele was referred for genetic testing, which identified an increased risk for other cancers. And just weeks after completing chemotherapy, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Michele didn’t allow the news to defeat her natural drive. “I think life is worth living. Just tell me what I can do to be better and I’ll do it,” Michele said. And after being treated by AHN Dr. Christie Hilton, DO, Michele is in remission from breast cancer as well.

“Thank God I’m cancer free! Thank God for the experts that you have taking care of you, for everything you’ve got. Dr. Miller saved my life. There was so much wrong, but she saved my life,” Michele said. And with Alexi now in college, Michele is enjoying life to the fullest.

Building relations while treating women’s cancers

Dr. Miller has always loved working with women. That’s why she was initially interested in obstetrics and gynecology. However, it was the opportunity to nurture longer-lasting relationships with women that need care the most that drew Dr. Miller to gynecologic oncology.

“From diagnosis, to surgery, to chemotherapy, and cancer surveillance — you become a part of a lifelong journey with patients, over their lives, because of the breadth of cancer care we provide.”

She’s also passionate about patient education, which she considers a critical part of relationship building. “That sets the stage for shared decision making, empowering patients to play an active role in their treatment plan and meet their health goals,” Dr. Miller said.

It was that focus on patient education and relationship building that made all the difference to Michele during her cancer journey. “When I told Dr. Miller I was nervous about chemotherapy, she made it a point to explain everything and show me where the treatments would take place. She walked right up there with me. Her commitment to her patients is unbelievable.”

If you or your loved ones have a family history of cancer or if you’d like to better understand your risk factors, take advantage of our advanced cancer genetic testing services. We’re proud to offer specialized expertise in genetic testing and counseling — and it all starts with a simple phone call.

Learn more about our advanced genetic testing services. Start getting ahead of risk. Contact our genetic counselors for more information at (412) 359-8064.

AHN Women’s Health specialists support a woman’s health including preventive screenings and wellness support through specialty expertise such as gynecological oncology. Online scheduling with MyChart makes it easy to schedule an appointment that’s convenient for you.