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November 5th, 2015

Gut Feeling, Being in Right Place May Have Saved Lynn Witherspoon

By Hoyt Finnamore

Lynn Witherspoon and her husband moved to Jacksonville to be close to Mayo.When Lynn Witherspoon was diagnosed with breast cancer, she wanted to move quickly. And she wanted to move to a place she felt would give her the care she needed. So she and her husband moved from their home in North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida, to be near Mayo Clinic's Florida campus.

"We live in a rural area, and I felt more comfortable going to Mayo for my cancer care," she says. She'd had relatives treated at Mayo. "So I knew what it offered and its reputation."

Lynn was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma. She completed five months of chemotherapy, and had a lumpectomy and removal of some lymph nodes, followed by radiation therapy. Something told her she should take another step to protect her health. 

A gut feeling

Before her surgery, Lynn asked her breast surgeon, Sanjay Bagaria, M.D., if he also could remove her ovaries. Lynn's mother died from ovarian cancer, and she feared she too would get the disease. Her surgeon said he could bring in a gynecologic surgeon, Matthew Robertson III, M.D., to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes at the same time as the breast procedure.

"I'm very lucky that Dr. Bagaria understood my concerns and took the steps to make everything happen on the same day," Lynn says. "I was barely menopausal but figured I didn't need my ovaries anymore. Removing them would alleviate the great fear I had of ovarian cancer."

"I'm very lucky that Dr. Bagaria understood my concerns and took the steps to make everything happen on the same day." - Lynn Witherspoon

The pathology report from her surgery showed her breast and lymph nodes to be free of cancer as a result of the chemotherapy. However, she was shocked to learn that she had serous tubal intraepithelial carcinoma in one fallopian tube. These lesions in the part of the tube next to the ovary often progress into the ovary and become malignant.

"Dr. Robertson told me I likely would have had full-blown ovarian cancer in three to five years and that I was very smart to have asked for my ovaries to be removed," she says. "I never imagined they'd find anything in my ovaries or tubes. I just wanted them out to prevent future worry. It was a gut feeling."

Right place at the right time

Lynn now says having breast cancer ultimately may have saved her life. "It's unlikely the ovarian cancer would have been detected for years, until it was advanced," she says. "I'm so lucky I was at the right place for breast cancer treatment, or else this precursor to ovarian cancer might not have been detected."

She says her experiences at Mayo Clinic have been so much more than she could have expected.

"So many little things at Mayo made such a big difference," Lynn says. "The day after I was diagnosed, my doctors asked me to go to the immunization clinic for a pneumonia vaccine. I burst into tears there, and the nurses asked me what was wrong. I told them I'd just been diagnosed with breast cancer. They were so positive and reassured me I'd be fine. 'You're at the right place,' they said."

She was also pleased at the interaction with her physician back in North Carolina. "I also love that Mayo gave my doctor at home access to my records, because eventually I will go home and be in his care," she says. "He has followed along with everything they've done and is very supportive of me being here."

"Mayo's chemotherapy nurses are awesome. They must have extra training in kindheartedness." - Lynn Witherspoon

Lynn says that prior to her cancer diagnosis, she'd never been sick or had surgery. But the concern and confidence of her care team, led by Mayo Clinic oncologist Saranya Chumsri, M.D., always gave her confidence.

"During my treatment, I needed an EKG, and was scared and shaking," she says. "The nurse saw the tears in my eyes and told me I'd be fine. She said that she, her mom and her sister all had breast cancer. She told me, 'You're going to be fine.'"

When Lynn was hospitalized with low hemoglobin and needed a blood transfusion, a nurse saw that she was frightened and sat with her throughout the infusion. "He told me not to worry and never left my side," Lynn says. "He was the perfect person at the perfect time -- just what I needed."

And one morning when Lynn went for chemotherapy, the nurse noticed immediately that she didn't seem like herself. "I didn't feel well and couldn't eat," she says. "The nurse said, 'This isn't like you. I'm going to get you in to see the doctor right now.' It turned out I was dehydrated. She could just tell something was wrong that needed attention. Mayo's chemotherapy nurses are awesome. They must have extra training in kindheartedness. No matter what side effect you have from treatment, they recommend a solution."

'Mayo didn't miss a beat'

Lynn says she felt hopeful throughout her cancer journey.

"My Mayo doctors always presented choices and made sure I knew that if one treatment didn't work, there were other options," she says. "They never made me feel like my cancer was a death sentence."

On top of that, she says, "From the moment I was diagnosed, Mayo didn't miss a beat. I feel like there's nothing they haven't looked at that needed to be addressed. There's absolutely no better place. My husband, Charles, said one thing he's learned from this experience is that this is the place to come."


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Tags: breast cancer, Cancer, Dr. Matthew Robertson III, Dr. Sanjay Bagaria, Dr. Saranya Chumsri, Florida Campus, General Surgery, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, lumpectomy, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Ovarian Cancer

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