Healthy You - Every Day

Compassionate Care and Robotic Surgery Gets Nicole Reimer Back on Her Feet

Bethlehem resident Nicole Reimer’s patient journey started in winter 2022 when she noticed a blue mole on her thigh. Her dermatologist said it was a common skin growth called a blue nevus, which is typically not cancerous. However, after multiple biopsies revealed that the mole was made up of atypical cells that had spread to another part of her thigh, Reimer was told to make appointments with surgical oncologist Aaron Blackham, MD, and hematologist oncologist (and Physician in Chief of Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute) Suresh Nair, MD.

“Hearing that I could be facing cancer was devastating,” Reimer says. “I was scared, but I knew that Drs. Blackham and Nair would do everything they could to get to the bottom of it, and they’d be there to support me every step of the way.”

A shocking discovery

To determine if the atypical cells had spread further and if they were cancerous, Reimer was scheduled for a sentinel lymph node biopsy (which identifies and involves the removal of lymph nodes that could be affected).

While Reimer knew what to expect during the biopsy, nothing could have prepared her for the surprise her care team found.

“They did a scan of my pelvic region and found two large masses – one on each ovary,” she says. “I hadn’t experienced any symptoms, so I was in complete shock.”

Blackham recommended moving ahead with the biopsy of the lymph nodes in her groin, but he also referred her to gynecologic oncologist M. Bijoy Thomas, MD, to diagnose and treat her ovarian masses.

“At that point, I was facing two potential cancer diagnoses, and I was beyond anxious,” Reimer says. “But I knew if anyone could get me through it, it would be my care team.”

Compassionate and advanced surgical care

Knowing that large masses can cause ovarian torsion (twisting of the ovaries), Thomas wasted no time getting Reimer into his office and the operating room.

“Dr. Thomas and his nursing team saw me just a few days after my sentinel lymph node biopsy,” Reimer says. “They told me the masses were likely benign, but it was very important that I have surgery very soon. They educated me on the procedure and answered all the questions I had.”

The best surgical option for Reimer was a hysterectomy, which Thomas was able to perform robotically.

“I cannot begin to describe how amazing my care team was, both in caring for me clinically and supporting me emotionally. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience, and I cannot recommend the Cancer Institute enough for anyone facing something similar.” - Nicole Reimer

“The robotic approach to gynecologic surgery offers a lot of benefits. Many patients return home on the same day and experience less pain during their recovery than they would after an open procedure. There is also a much shorter recovery time, with many patients returning to their regular activity level in two to three weeks,” Thomas says. “At some facilities, Nicole’s only option would have been an open surgery, which would have required hospitalization afterward and close to six weeks of recovery. After reviewing Nicole’s scans, I was confident that with my team’s experience, we could take a robotic-assisted laparoscopic approach to her procedure.”

Reimer was very worried the day of her surgery, but Thomas helped calm her nerves.

“Dr. Thomas came to see me beforehand, and he told me that I had been on the top of his prayer list that morning,” Reimer says. “He was not only knowledgeable and reassuring, but also so empathetic and kind.”

A successful recovery and bright future

Reimer returned home the same day as her procedure, and by the following weekend, she was able to ride five hours in a car to her son’s college football game.

“I know if I had gone through open surgery, I wouldn’t have made it to any of my son’s remaining games this past fall,” Reimer says. “I was even back to work in three weeks.”

A few weeks after the sentinel node biopsy, genetic testing of her removed lymph nodes and her hysterectomy, Reimer received the news she’d been hoping for: The mole on her leg and the masses on her ovaries were not cancerous. Since the atypical cells that made up her mole also were found in her removed lymph nodes, she will be followed closely by Nair over the next few years. However, she will not need any follow-up care with Thomas now that she has healed from her hysterectomy.

“I cannot begin to describe how amazing my care team was, both in caring for me clinically and supporting me emotionally,” Reimer says. “I couldn’t have asked for a better experience, and I cannot recommend the Cancer Institute enough for anyone facing something similar.”

Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute

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