New Care Model and Treatment Plan Provides Comfort and a Cancer-Free Outcome for Marsha

Date: May 20, 2024

Marsha Masten, 62, and her husband were planning to leave in two weeks for a trip to Geneva, Switzerland. But she hadn’t felt well for about two weeks. The abdominal pain and nausea were all too familiar given her history of intestinal inflammation and infection from diverticulitis. She wondered if she might have a bladder infection.

“The abdominal pain got pretty uncomfortable,” Marsha says. “And then my husband, who is a physician, said, ‘There’s no way you can fly eight hours on a plane. We need to figure out what’s going on with you.”

Waking up on a Monday morning after a “terrible” night, Marsha and her husband went to a nearby emergency room. Given her history, the ER doctor recommended doing a CT scan. After the scan, Marsha says they “knew something was wrong because [the doctor] looked so deflated.” She recalls him saying, “I’m really sorry, but it looks like you have two large masses in your abdomen.” Then he added, “I don’t know what we can do for you.”

Marsha says her husband, an OB-GYN, “just knew what it was.” He “just sunk down into a chair and put his head in his hands and started crying.”

Marsha’s husband reached out to his old colleagues in St. Louis and a world-renowned professor with whom he trained. After looking at the CT scan and report, the professor said it looked like ovarian cancer that had metastasized to her liver. He recommended they reach out to his colleague, Susan Modesitt, MD, who had recently moved to Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. “If it was my wife, I’d take her there,” he said.

Developing and Following a Treatment Plan

Soon after, Marsha received an email from Dr. Modesitt, leader of Winship’s gynecologic oncology program. Dr. Modesitt is also a professor and director of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology in the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics at Emory University School of Medicine. They arranged to meet at Winship’s full-service cancer care center in Midtown Atlanta.

Marsha recalls Dr. Modesitt saying it was ovarian cancer and indeed had spread. Marsha responded, “I’m a planner, and I don’t do well with the unknown. So, if you can give me a plan that we can follow, then we’ll just attack this. We’ll just work the plan.” Winship partners with patients to recommend a treatment plan, and for Marsha, Modesitt recommended a plan consisting of surgery and an oral anti-cancer medication.

“I try to provide every single patient with the type of cancer care I would want for a member of my family,” Dr. Modesitt says. “That includes both the most up-to-date treatment options but also a caring approach with honest and understandable explanations of both the cancer and our treatment plans.”

After getting the results of a liver biopsy, Marsha received her first round of chemotherapy. Then came what Marsha describes as “dicey surgery” to remove a lymph node that had cancerous cells and was right next to her aorta, and a total hysterectomy that removed “anything that looked suspicious.”

Marsha’s treatment plan also included an oral drug – a PARP inhibitor – that basically prevents cancer cells from reproducing and addresses the broken gene associated with BRCA2. She feels grateful to the women who participated in the drug’s clinical trials long ago that led to its approval with the FDA. “If many, many women hadn’t gone through those clinical trials, it wouldn’t be benefitting me today,” she says.

“Clinical trials are imperative to move the field forward as today’s clinical trials become the standard care of the future, and there are so many gynecologic breakthroughs happening right now,” Dr. Modesitt says. “My goal since arriving at Emory has been to build our gynecologic oncology research program so that every patient with a gynecologic cancer has access to a clinical trial.”

Feeling Embraced by Her Care Team

“It’s one thing to be sick,” says Marsha. “It’s another thing to be sick and stressed out and worried. I didn’t worry. I felt like I was in incredible hands.” She explains, “It does make a difference when you’re the patient to feel safe and to feel like the people that are taking care of you know what they’re doing and that they really care. It felt like a big hug all the time.”

The embrace Marsha felt was exactly the kind of patient experience Winship Cancer Institute at Emory Midtown fosters, where “everybody comes to you,” as she puts it, including her doctor, nurses, a dietitian, spiritual health specialist and genetic counselor. Nearly all the services a patient needs—from diagnostics and doctors' appointments to infusions and support services—are brought directly to the patient in their private care suite by teams of experts who specialize in their cancer type collaborating across disciplines. This approach is part of a new cancer care model pioneered at Winship Cancer Institute at Emory Midtown.

A Positive Outcome

After having her third CT scan post-treatment, Marsha says, “I’m doing fantastic. It showed no evidence of disease.” Lab results also show that the cancer marker called CA 125 has fallen back to well within the normal range.

Summing up her experience at Winship Cancer Institute at Emory Midtown, Marsha says, “I think it’s very, very important for a patient to find a health care provider or health care organization that specializes in the type of cancer that they have, because it’s something they do every day, all day long and they’re committed to it and passionate about it.” She adds, “That’s one thing that I have been able to tell here at Winship: everyone is so committed to what they’re doing and they’re so passionate about it, that it leaves me feeling safe.”

About Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University

Dedicated to discovering cures for cancer and inspiring hope, Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University is Georgia’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, a prestigious distinction given to the top tier of cancer centers nationwide for making breakthroughs against cancer. Winship is researching, developing, teaching and providing patients with novel and highly effective ways to prevent, detect, diagnose, treat and survive cancer. Cancer care at Winship includes leading cancer specialists collaborating across disciplines to tailor treatment plans to each patient’s needs; innovative therapies and clinical trials; comprehensive patient and family support services; and a care experience aimed at easing the burden of cancer. Winship is Where Science Becomes Hope.

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