“It’s a silent, deadly, awful thing,” says Leslie Ginsberg about ovarian cancer. Always in great shape, in 2012, she had just placed first in her age category for the fifth time at the Camp Pendleton Mud Run. A week later, the then-65-year-old was feeling an unusual fullness and bloating in her abdomen.
“I looked at myself and knew there was something wrong,” she said. “I didn’t know how wrong until I got the results from my CAT scan — Stage 3 ovarian cancer that had already spread to my lymph nodes and some other organs. I was stunned. I was shocked. I was a fit, active runner. I saw my gynecologist every year. I had my pap smear every year. I did everything I was supposed to do."
Early ovarian cancer detection
Early ovarian cancer often causes no symptoms. This difficulty in early detection makes it very common for ovarian cancer to go undiagnosed until it has spread. According to the National Cancer Institute, ovarian cancer is responsible for more deaths than any other gynecologic cancer, and is the fifth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women.
Ginsberg's husband, Philip, was determined to find the best care possible. He meticulously researched options throughout California and beyond.
“We could go anywhere in the country, and I wanted to find the most qualified surgeons, oncologists and medical care for my wife,” he said. “The fact that Dr. Robert Bristow was close to home made it even better.”
Surgery and chemotherapy
The operation to remove the cancer was an extensive 12-hour procedure. Bristow, director of gynecologic oncology services at UC Irvine Health, together with urologic and vascular surgeons, performed the operation in July 2012. Leslie began intravenous chemotherapy treatment a few days later at the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. Located at UC Irvine Medical Center, it is Orange County’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center.
Ginsberg was able to take a break from chemotherapy over the holidays, then began intraperitoneal chemotherapy treatment in January 2013. IP chemotherapy is injected through a catheter directly into the abdominal cavity, placing a high concentration of cancer-killing drugs directly where they are needed. The chemotherapy agents are absorbed more slowly, increasing exposure to the medicine.
“Dr. Bristow was marvelous,” she said. “My care was excellent. The nurses at the Chao infusion center for my chemo treatments were wonderful. If I had any questions, I could connect with Julie, the nurse in Dr. Bristow’s office. I could call or send her an email, and she would respond. There was always somebody to answer my questions. If you have to go through something like this, it is so important to feel like you are getting great care.”
A tough recovery
Recovery after surgery and during chemotherapy was “tough,” she said. “What worked best was just to get up and walk every day, each day taking a step further than the day before. Sometimes, all I wanted to do was go back home, but walking does make you feel better. Most of all, I wanted to start running again. That was a driving force.”
Ginsberg completed chemotherapy in February of that year. “March of 2013 is when I got my legs back from the last chemo treatment. The first time I ran was only 10 feet. But now I’m back to my old running distance of four to five miles every day.”