Seeking a Second Opinion at Mount Sinai Changed My Life
Victoria Murphy shares her cancer journey
"You read the scan – and you know it's in the muscle…have you spoken to your children?" were the words I heard from the world-renowned doctor at what I thought was THE flagship cancer hospital which diagnosed me with stage IV appendiceal cancer, a very rare cancer. There is not much information or statistics on it, which made it terrifying.
The first group of doctors offered me intravenous chemotherapy to treat the cancer left in my body, which they could not surgically remove, and informed me that there was a 2 percent success rate with this treatment option. I was told that there was no other treatment option available. When they scheduled me for surgery to put a port into my chest for the chemotherapy, I told them I would think about it and get back to them. I never went back.
What I've learned from my cancer journey is that where you are treated first doesn't always offer the best treatment option.
I heard about the HIPEC procedure for appendicle cancer patient from my friends in England and looked it up online. Until recently, many doctors did not perform this procedure, but what I found is that it is being done with great success in prolonging the lives of those who otherwise did not have long to live. This was now me, as unbelievable as it was.
I learned that Mount Sinai Hospital performed HIPEC, and the hospital's website made it easy for me to contact Dr. Spiros Hiotis, who called me a short time later that same day. He was friendly, extremely easy to talk to, and upbeat. I hung up feeling hopeful and some relief.
I cried the entire trip to Mount Sinai from New Jersey. My head was still reeling from the worst news a patient could hear: "Stage IV… in the muscle… have you spoken to your children yet?... It was in your body for a verrrrry looong time." I kept thinking of the surgeon who stared at the floor the entire time we spoke – why wouldn't he look me in the eye? I felt that I must be in really bad shape, and this left me feeling exhausted and hopeless. I hoped and prayed that I was a candidate for HIPEC as we drove over the George Washington Bridge to Mount Sinai Hospital.
This is a snippet of the conversation I had with Dr. Hiotis:
Me: "Will you have to remove my whole colon?"
Dr. Hiotis: "No."
Me: "Will I have a colostomy bag?"
Dr. Hiotis: "That's always a possibility, but I don't see that happening."
Me: "I'm stage IV – that's really bad, isn't it?"
Dr. Hiotis: "...you can't let that number get to you..."
Me: "Am I a candidate for HIPEC?"
Dr. Hiotis: "Yes...go home and relax..."
And I did. Dr. Hiotis' calm demeanor and capable confidence perked me up, and I could feel the uneasiness leave my body as we spoke. I finally had a clear understanding of my diagnosis and what we were up against – and I was so grateful for that. Even though my diagnosis remained the same, the HIPEC procedure offered a more rational, appropriate treatment. I stopped crying that day. I could breathe again. That evening, for the first time since my diagnosis, I relaxed and kicked back with a glass of red win – and for the first time in months, I smiled.
With the confidence of being in good hands, I focused on getting ready for the HIPEC surgery, which was scheduled four weeks later. I awoke from surgery to someone peering over me. I squinted my eyes and saw it was Dr. Hiotis – and even through the haze of anesthesia, I felt blessed and lucky to have found such a smart and caring doctor. I was home walking on the beach five days later.
Two years later, I had my 2-year CT scan, which came back free and clear of cancer. I went to Macy's, bought myself a pair of rockin' black suede boot, and continued on to work the New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden. How was cool it was to have my check-up day be just another day. I remember wishing for that.
The HIPEC procedure has kept me free of cancer, and Ddr. Hiotis continues to keep me upbeat and informed – and helps me deal with this crazy thing that has happened to me. I told my family that he must have taken advanced classes in "How to Be Honest without Scaring Patients to Death" and "How to Deal with a Terrified Woman," amongst others!
And for all of the little things – the daily, glorious, small wonders of everyday life, I am forever grateful. Waking every day, loving my family, walking on the beach with our chocolate lab and yellow lab puppy, laughing with my sons and daughter, biking with my husband, watching my 16 year old play lacrosse, sharing cocktails with my girlfriends, dancing at a Pitbull concert – this life I live, all of these moments, are all courtesy of Dr. Spiros Hiotis, the awesome doctors at Mount Sinai, who performed my HIPEC treatment, which led me back to my life as it was before stave IV appendicle cancer. Dr. Hiotis gave me hope when I was hopeless, talked me out freaking out on more than one occasion, and brought me back to me.
Dr. Hiotis is one of those great doctors that make you feel that you are in the best hands possible – and lucky to be his patient. I hope Dr. Hiotis realizes how much my family appreciates his medical knowledge and expertise, his unmatched skill in managing someone who is terrified, and, most importantly, his genuine kindness and the wonderful way in which he cares for his patients.
So, here I am, living my life – never forgetting how my search for a better treatment option led me to this wonderful doctor who changed my life. It scares me to think about what my life would be like if I have followed the initial treatment plan offered to me by that first group of doctors.
I feel great, and I'm having a blast. Every day is a present wrapped in linen and white paper. There are no words, really – just gratitude.