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The Dance of LifeArcadia Professor’s Journey Through Ovarian Cancer, with AMH by Her Side

“Life’s not about waiting for the storms to pass,
it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

This quote has become a mantra for Arcadia Professor Marianne Miserandino, PhD, age 51, of Roslyn. With the help of renowned Abington Memorial Hospital Gynecologic Oncologist Parviz Hanjani, MD and the hospital’s participation in advanced gynecologic oncology clinical trials, Marianne is living with ovarian cancer.

Her story began in January 2000 with her marriage to husband Dimitrios. “I was 39, so we were anxious to start a family,” she says. “When my Abington gynecologist performed a surgery to address a possible ovarian cyst and discovered a suspicious mass, she paged Dr. Hanjani immediately. Apparently Dr. Hanjani was walking out of the hospital. He turned around, suited and scrubbed up, and came into the operating room.”

Dr. Hanjani is director of the Hanjani Institute for Gynecologic Oncology at Abington. He explains, “With all our patients, we do everything we can for patients of childbearing age to preserve the woman’s ability to have children. I was very concerned with what I was seeing, but removed only one ovary along with a great deal of surrounding tissue to be biopsied to potentially preserve fertility.” 

Marianne says, “I’m so grateful for his expertise. It turns out he got all of the cancerous cells in that first surgery. But after having the final pathology results, I had to have the other ovary and my uterus removed as well.”

Because AMH’s Gynecologic Oncology Program is so progressive, a number of ovarian cancer clinical trials are available. Dr. Hanjani explains, “Marianne had early-stage ovarian cancer. However, the risk of recurrence in her situation was high. We felt she could benefit from the standard regimen of three cycles of combination chemotherapy, plus an additional maintenance period of weekly treatment with a low dose of the same chemotherapy through a clinical trial. We continued to monitor her closely through blood work and CT scans.”

“I then lived happily for five and half years,” Marianne adds. She treated herself to ballet classes, something she’d always wanted to take, at the Professional Dance Academy in Willow Grove. ”I set a goal to be ‘on pointe’ (the term for standing straight on one’s toes). By the time my cancer recurred in 2006, I had done it!” she exclaims.

Dr. Hanjani and his team stayed on their toes, too. According to Susan Nolte, PhD, director of the Center for Clinical Research at AMH, “Since Marianne had a long interval without a recurrence, Dr. Hanjani removed the new tumor and placed her on the same six-month combination of drug therapies that helped her initially.”

Through it all, Marianne kept dancing. “The feeling of moving to the music and being with other people – it’s a blast,” she says. She joined two dance groups, the Janosik Polish Dancers and Monique Legare International Dance Company. Both groups dress in authentic costumes, performing at public events to preserve the cultures of Poland, Armenia, Israel, Italy, Puerto Rico and others.

She also decided to write “Personality Psychology: Foundations and Findings,” a college textbook for students. Last year, the cancer returned, but she focused on finishing the book. “I was proofing the final version when I finished my chemotherapy in the summer of 2011.”

In December 2011, Dr. Hanjani performed surgery to remove the residue of a recurrent tumor that was present after completion of chemotherapy. Marianne is currently being considered for participation in a clinical trial evaluating an investigational ovarian cancer vaccine, to hopefully prevent a recurrence of cancer. This is the benefit of being treated at an institution that conducts clinical trials.

“I’m happy to say I’m at the ‘no evidence of disease’ stage once more,” she says. “With advanced medicine like that at Abington  Memorial Hospital, ovarian cancer is a chronic disease. I live with it, but it doesn’t define me. If anything, it’s made me braver.”

Both Dr. Hanjani and Dr. Nolte are acknowledged in Marianne’s book. Her inscription to Dr. Hanjani reads: “You hold in your hands something I could never imagine doing. Whether this book was written because of, or in spite of, my illness, I’ll never know. But either way I am grateful to you for making my after-cancer life possible. Thank you!”      

Keep on dancing, Marianne!

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