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Bernice Markowski’s Fight Against Endometrial Cancer

Early detection and prompt, multidisciplinary treatment led to a successful outcome

As a nurse with over 40 years’ experience, 68-year-old Dupont resident Bernice Markowski knows the importance of going to the doctor when something isn’t right. So, when she noticed postmenopausal spotting in August 2021, she quickly scheduled an appointment with her gynecologist.

“While I was a bit concerned, I had a history of endometriosis and polyps, so I thought it might be related to that,” Markowski says.

Additional testing and biopsies led to a surprising diagnosis: stage IA grade 3 endometrial adenocarcinoma (a type of uterine cancer).

“I was in complete shock, but I knew my gynecologist would know the best next steps,” Markowski says. “The first thing he told me was that I should go to Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute for the most advanced care. He knew I would be in the best hands there, and he was absolutely right.”

Prompt endometrial cancer care

Markowski received a phone call from Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute the day after her gynecologist referred her, and she was scheduled for an appointment the following week.

At her first appointment, she met with M. Bijoy Thomas, MD, Chief, Gynecologic Oncology at Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute, who made her feel relieved from the minute he walked through the door.

“Dr. Thomas and his nursing staff put me at ease from the very beginning of my appointment,” Markowski says. “They made me feel like I was a part of their family, and that they would take care of me as if I was their mother or sister.”

Thomas recommended a robotic hysterectomy and scheduled the procedure for less than a week after Markowski’s first appointment.

“I couldn’t believe how quickly I was able to get my surgery. Even though I was diagnosed with an early-stage cancer, I didn’t want to wait and worry it would get worse,” Markowski says. “Dr. Thomas knew that and told me no matter what, he would get me in the operating room.”

Surgical success

Markowski had her robotic hysterectomy performed at Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–17th Street.

Because she and her partner, Matthew, lived over an hour away, Thomas’ nursing staff helped them book a room at Hackerman-Patz House the night before.

The procedure was more difficult than usual due to previous abdominal surgeries, but it went very well. In fact, Markowski was discharged from the hospital the same day and experienced very few side effects during her recovery period.

“The robotic approach to gynecologic surgery offers a lot of benefits for patients like Bernice,” Thomas says. “Individuals often return home from these procedures on the same day and typically experience less pain during their recovery. There is also a much shorter average recovery time, with many patients returning to their regular activity level in two weeks.”

In addition to Thomas, Markowski also received care from the Cancer Institute’s gynecologic oncology nurse practitioners.

“Our nurse practitioners are a crucial part of the patient journey, from coordination of care to patient experience,” Thomas says.

Additional radiation treatment

A few weeks after her surgery, Markowski returned for a follow-up appointment. It was recommended that she get additional scans and  meet with radiation oncologist Alyson McIntosh, MD, with Allentown Radiation Oncology Associates.

While the scans showed no signs of disease, McIntosh recommended brachytherapy (an internal type of radiation therapy) to decrease the chances of recurrence.

“Bernice was at risk for local recurrence of her cancer in the pelvis,” McIntosh says. “Because of this, we recommended internal brachytherapy, which allowed us to focus treatment on a specific area without delivering significant doses to other sensitive structures.”

After receiving three sessions over the course of a week and a half, Markowski completed her treatment regimen.

“My radiation care team went over everything with me step-by-step, and they really studied my case before making the recommendation for additional treatment,” Markowski says. “Dr. McIntosh didn’t have to convince me of the treatment plan at all – I completely trusted her decision.”

A bright future

Bernice is back to working as a nurse and practicing her favorite hobby – weightlifting.

She continues to be followed closely by her care team at Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute and is incredibly grateful for the prompt and compassionate care she received.

“Finding out you have cancer completely changes your life, and the most important thing is finding a team that will offer you the most advanced care options as soon as possible,” Markowski says. “I highly recommend Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute for anyone facing cancer, because I know firsthand that no one else will go above and beyond the way they do. From my first interaction with the appointment scheduler to my nurses and doctors, I was treated like family. I wasn’t just a number to them – I was a person.”

Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute

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