Healthy You - Every Day

Tiffany Patterson Gets Her Groove Back After Facing Ovarian Cancer

Preoperative chemotherapy and robotic surgery were key parts of care

Professional dancer and choreographer Tiffany Patterson, 43, isn’t one to slow down for little things. But when she experienced severe pain in her abdomen while teaching a dance class, she immediately knew something wasn’t right.

“It felt like I had been sucker punched in the stomach, and it was unlike any pain I’ve felt before,” Patterson says. “I drank some water and it got a little better, so I thought it was over. That was until my stomach became very swollen a few days later.”

Patterson listened to her instincts and went straight to the ER at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Muhlenberg, where they did blood and imaging tests. The results showed the exact cause of her symptoms: a mass attached to her abdominal wall and bloodwork findings that suggested it was cancerous.

“I was beside myself when I got the results, but the doctors and nurses were very kind and empathetic,” Patterson says. “They even set up a video call with the surgeon who would perform the surgery, if it was cancer.”

“I can’t wait to get back to my normal schedule, and when I do, my care team members will be some of the first people I think of. Without them, my family, my friends and my faith, my recovery journey wouldn’t be possible.” - Tiffany Patterson

That gynecologic oncologist was M. Bijoy Thomas, MD, one of the region’s most experienced robotic surgeons (who recently completed his 3,500th robotic procedure).

“When Dr. Thomas came on the screen, it was like I was speaking with my guardian angel,” Patterson says. “He had this warm smile on his face and reassured me that he and the team at the [Lehigh Valley Topper] Cancer Institute would take great care of me. I immediately felt relief and knew I would be in the best hands.”

First steps of treatment

Before being discharged from the hospital, Patterson underwent a biopsy and paracentesis (a procedure that removes fluid from the abdomen).

After she returned home, Patterson met with Dr. Thomas’ colleague Tanya Weidner, CRNP. She shared that the biopsy confirmed Patterson had ovarian cancer (which had spread to her abdominal wall) and the next step would be preoperative chemotherapy with hematologist oncologist Roberto Fratamico, MD.

“Dr. Fratamico was so kind and explained everything about my chemotherapy treatments in detail,” Patterson says. “And when I experienced side effects from my treatments, he listened to my concerns and addressed them.”

Patterson underwent multiple rounds of chemotherapy. By the end of her regimen, her tumor had shrunk and her circulating tumor markers (substances found in body fluids that indicate cancer) had dropped significantly.

“Getting that news energized me to keep pushing to the next stage of my treatment,” Patterson says. “I couldn’t have gotten that far without my chemo nurses and Dr. Fratamico.”

Compassionate surgical care

After finishing chemotherapy, Patterson met with Dr. Thomas to discuss her options for surgery.

“He scooted his chair right up to me and told me that I would get through this,” Patterson says. “I could tell that he genuinely cared about me and my life.”

Dr. Thomas recommended a robotic total hysterectomy. Compared to open surgery, the robotic approach is associated with less blood loss, less pain overall, shorter recovery times and a lower risk for complications.

Being that it was Patterson’s first-ever surgical procedure, she was nervous. However, her care team came through and helped ease her concerns.

“Dr. Thomas was one of the first people I saw in the preoperative area, which really meant a lot to me,” Patterson says. “When they brought me into the operating room, they even showed me the robot that Dr. Thomas would be using and let me pick the music I would fall asleep to. It was such a compassionate experience.”

Patterson was out of the operating room in about two hours and went home the day after.

“Throughout the entire surgical procedure, Tiffany only lost a few drops of blood,” Thomas says. “Even better, we were able to remove all the visible cancer in her abdomen and pelvis with no complications.”

Can’t touch this

Patterson was surprised at how quickly she recovered from her procedure at home. Within a few days, she was using the stairs with no trouble.

“I couldn’t believe how quickly I was back on my feet,” Patterson says. “I really believe it was the robotic approach – and Dr. Thomas’ talented hands – that made all the difference.”

Further testing of samples taken during the procedure confirmed that Patterson’s ovarian cancer was stage 3. It was recommended that she see Dr. Fratamico again to undergo an additional three rounds of chemotherapy and other treatments.

“Surgery does not eliminate all of the cancer cells in the abdominal cavity, so it’s often recommended that patients like Tiffany undergo postoperative chemotherapy,” Dr. Fratamico says. “She continued the same regimen as before for additional cycles, and at the same time, received an antibody that prevents the formation of blood vessels that could fuel remaining cancer cells. She is now taking a chemotherapy pill along with the antibody as maintenance to prevent her cancer from recurring.”

“I’ve been dancing since I was 3 years old. If I’m not dancing, I’m not really living,” Patterson says. “I can’t wait to get back to my normal schedule, and when I do, my care team members will be some of the first people I think of. Without them, my family, my friends and my faith, my recovery journey wouldn’t be possible.”

Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute

Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute

Leading Edge Cancer Care, Close to Home

Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute is a member of the Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Alliance, which provides patients with even more lifesaving care options, and holds numerous national patient safety and excellence designations.

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