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Being Grateful for Potholes and Other Bumps in the Road

Philadelphia woman embraces ovarian cancer as part of her life journey.

Lynda KyemLynda Kyem, 52, is living well with stage IV ovarian cancer. She is not cured, nor is she in remission. Although diagnosed in December 2012 with the most advanced stage of the disease, Lynda is not at the end of her life. Rather, she has been living each day fully since learning of her illness. Lynda attributes the management of her disease, in part, to ongoing advances in ovarian cancer research and treatment, and her knowledgeable and dedicated oncology team at Abington – Jefferson Health’s Rosenfeld Cancer Center.

It may seem cliché to say that when caught up in the busyness of life, it sometimes takes a sudden jolt or hitting a bump in the road to get one’s attention. For Lynda Kyem however, the experience was quite literal. Hitting a pothole while riding in the car shifted something inside her, bringing her awareness of excruciating abdominal pain. It was her body’s way of warning her that something was incredibly wrong.

“Who would ever imagine you could be so grateful for a pothole?” she joked, reflecting on that experience. The pain caused Lynda to seek medical care immediately. A series of tests showed she had stage IV ovarian cancer, whereupon Lynda was referred to Elizabeth Burton, MD, gynecologic oncologist at Abington’s Hanjani Institute for Gynecologic Oncology.

“I thank God I have access to a hospital that has the facilities and doctors that have the expertise – and are up to the challenge of caring for me,” said Lynda. “Simply speaking about Dr. Burton, my eyes fill up with tears of deep gratitude. She’s been my angel.”

When Cancer Becomes a Chronic Disease

In retrospect, Lynda now recognizes she had been experiencing subtle symptoms of ovarian cancer for a while, including pain and bloating. “But symptoms of ovarian cancer often mimic other conditions, so I really didn’t think much of it,” she recalled.

While Lynda’s cancer has spread to other parts of her body and is not curable, it is treatable. “We can’t cure or get rid of Lynda’s advanced disease,” explained Dr. Burton. “But we can treat the disease and manage the symptoms to provide her with the longest disease-free intervals possible and the best quality of life possible.”

According to the American Cancer Society, some cancers (such as ovarian) repeat a cycle of growing, shrinking and stabilizing, which can mean survival for many years during which the cancer can be managed as a chronic illness. Treatment can be used to control the cancer, help relieve symptoms and help people live longer. Such has been the case for Lynda, who works closely with her medical team to control her disease.

During the past five years, Lynda’s treatment has involved extensive surgeries, including the removal of her uterus and ovaries, spleen and portions of her liver; as well as surgeries to her groin, diaphragm and stomach. She’s had multiple cycles of chemotherapy, participated in several clinical trials and experienced long periods (up to a year) when she is relatively healthy with no symptoms. When new symptoms arise, Lynda and her team discuss changing the course of treatment.

Lynda has made room for cancer in her remarkably busy life. After her diagnosis, she launched and now runs her own business – Beloved Home Care Services – which provides home health aides and home care attendants for seniors, the intellectually disabled and ill adults. She cares for her extended family, is an active church member and advocates for women with ovarian cancer – especially in the African American community. In addition, Lynda supports the Abington – Jefferson Health team in the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition’s annual 5k run/walk to Break the Silence on Ovarian Cancer® in Philadelphia.

A Decision to Embrace Life in Every Moment

Lynda Kyem - StrollLynda’s treatment team at Abington is quick to identify key factors that influence her health. “Lynda has an incredibly supportive husband and family, a strong faith and generous spirit,” said Nurse Navigator Jennifer Cacciatore, RN. “She deals with cancer the way she handles other areas of her life: with a positive attitude that God and her family will get her through this.”

Lynda Kyem - StretchTo Lynda, getting through cancer does not mean being cured. “Any sickness can come into your life and change it for better or worse,” she said. “You have to decide which direction you want to go. We all have a journey. Mine is to live well with ovarian cancer.”

For information about cancer care at Abington – Jefferson Health, visit JeffersonHealth.org/AbingtonCancer.