Healthy You - Every Day

Supportive Care Team Helps Operating Room Nurse Fight Anal Cancer

Bonnie Parker’s diagnosis required a multidisciplinary care team and treatment plan

As an operating room nurse, Hellertown resident Bonnie Parker has always been focused on her health. An avid runner and exercise bike enthusiast, she also has always kept up with her cancer screenings and noticed changes to her body.

So, when Parker noticed a growth by her anus, she knew she needed to get it checked out.

Health history

Parker has been aware of her cancer risk for many years, as she was previously diagnosed with human papillomavirus (HPV). The condition can increase one’s risk for developing cervical, anal, vulvar, vaginal, penile, and head and neck cancer.

Even after a few doctors looked at the growth and thought it was harmless, she felt more comfortable getting another opinion.

“I know my body, and something just didn’t feel right,” Parker says. “I think it’s so important to put your health first and listen to your instincts – I’m so glad that I did.”

Receiving a diagnosis

Parker made an appointment with colon and rectal surgeon William Sangster, MD, with Colon-Rectal Surgery Associates, PC, for further evaluation. While an initial biopsy of the growth came back normal, he decided to perform an internal exam and remove the growth completely.

“Dr. Sangster took me seriously from the minute I walked into his office,” Parker says. “He went the extra mile to fully evaluate what was going on and give me an answer.”

Although the growth turned out to be completely benign, another lesion detected inside Parker’s anal canal was found to be anal squamous cell carcinoma (a cancer often linked to HPV), and additional diagnostic scans determined it was stage 3.

“Even as a nurse who has worked with cancer patients, I was completely taken aback. You can’t fully wrap your head around the word ‘cancer’ until you have it yourself,” Parker says. “Even though I was very upset, I knew that Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute had great doctors who would know exactly what treatment would be best for me.”

Anal cancer treatment

Parker was quickly referred to the Cancer Institute and decided to receive her care at the Cancer Center at Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Muhlenberg.

“I work at LVH–Muhlenberg, and I wanted to try to keep my routine as normal as possible during my treatment,” Parker says.

Her care team included radiation oncologist Hasan Danish, MD, with Allentown Radiation Oncology Associates, and hematologist oncologist Ahmed Nadeem, DO, with LVPG Hematology Oncology–Muhlenberg. Together, they recommended that she undergo a comprehensive treatment regimen that involved six weeks of radiation therapy combined with a few rounds of chemotherapy.

“The treatment protocol Bonnie received is considered one of the most effective treatments for anal cancer today,” Nadeem says. “By combining chemotherapy and radiation therapy, we are able to eliminate more cancerous cells than if we used radiation therapy alone.”

Parker was impressed by the way her care team worked together, and she felt supported throughout every stage of her journey.

“Drs. Danish and Nadeem knew a lot about the treatment options for my specific diagnosis,” Parker says. “My nurses were fantastic, too. They followed up with me frequently, and whenever I called with a question, they got me an answer as soon as possible.”

Parker made a goal to exercise, even for just a few minutes, every day she had radiation therapy. She also prioritized time with her colleagues, friends and partner.

“My goal was to keep my routine as normal as possible throughout my treatment regimen,” Parker says. “It was hard some days, but I always made time for physical activity and get-togethers with friends and colleagues. My support system helped me get through some of the worst times.”

Continued care

Even though Parker is finished with her treatments, she is still followed closely by her care team.

“Bonnie will receive her first post-treatment scans three months after her last treatment to make sure her cancer has responded completely,” Danish says. “Her entire care team will continue to monitor her for many years to come, and together, we will answer any questions that come up and provide support whenever it is needed.”

Now back to working full time and enjoying her active lifestyle, Parker is grateful for the support she received and the continued dedication of her care team.

Muhlenberg cancer Center entrance

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