Ovarian cancer survivor Marion Roth preaches perseverance
Marion Roth was not expecting her cancer diagnosis. She has no family history of cancer, and follows a healthy lifestyle full of hiking, kayaking, running, and yoga.
Yet in October 2016, the 56-year-old Ridgefield resident learned that a grapefruit-sized mass in her lower abdomen was granulosa cell tumor of the ovary — a rare malignant tumor that accounts for about 2% of all ovarian tumors.
“I was shocked and surprised just as anyone would be under those conditions,” Roth said last week, telling her story as part of National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. “I was experiencing indigestion and frequent urination and a lot of abdominal pain among other symptoms, like being persistently bloated and nauseous after meals. I thought it might just be part of the aging process that many women experience.”
But then she started to gain weight and noticed a bump in her stomach, similar to when she was pregnant with each of her two children.
Back pain ultimately brought Roth to her Ob-gyn Richard Ruben, M.D., of Physicians for Women’s Health at Danbury Hospital.
Dr. Ruben conducted tests and ruled out other conditions that might be causing her symptoms. He quickly referred Roth to Danbury Hospital Gynecologic Oncology, under the care of Vaagn Andikyan, M.D., a gynecologic oncologist for Western Connecticut Health Network (WCHN).
Roth was diagnosed with Stage 1C2 granulosa cell tumor of the ovary. The tumor in her right ovary had ruptured and malignant cells were in her abdomen.
Dr. Andikyan counseled Roth to have surgery to remove the cancer.
“We wanted to give her the best chance at defeating the cancer and not having it come back,” Dr. Andikyan told The Press.
Roth had a hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy to remove her uterus, cervix, and both ovaries and fallopian tubes on Oct. 14, 2016.
Dr. Andikyan also performed a pelvic and paraaortic lymphadenectomy to remove lymph nodes from her pelvis and from in front of her lumbar vertebrae near her aorta and vena cava, and an omentectomy to remove fatty tissue near the stomach.
“It was a three-hour surgery and thanks to Marion’s positive attitude we were able to complete it successfully,” he said.
“I knew I was in good hands and I understood the process of what they were going to do,” Roth added. “I didn’t know the outcome, and that created fear based on ambiguity, but I knew I had the best medical care providers out there.”
There is limited recurrence data for Roth’s type of ovarian cancer because granulosa cell tumor of the ovary is so uncommon. Therefore, Dr. Andikyan and Kevin Jain, M.D., a medical oncologist at Danbury Hospital, recommended 18-rounds of chemotherapy for Roth to reduce the risk of the cancer spreading and of recurrence.
“It was a rough process,” said Roth. “Chemotherapy is designed to be hard on your body and kill off the weak cells. It was difficult but I got through it because I was surrounded by positive people and never let myself give up.”
Roth has been managing Type 1 diabetes for nearly 48 years, which complicated her cancer diagnosis and the subsequent treatment plan.
Drs. Andikyan and Jain and Robert Savino, D.O., endocrinologist at Western Connecticut Medical Group Endocrinology, worked together to develop an effective, safe care plan based on Roth’s diabetes.
“I asked a lot of questions and they answered all of them,” Roith said.
She underwent six months of chemotherapy with the help of an artificial pancreas and completed her treatment in May 2017.
“It was very much a team effort, and I am forever grateful for the care I got,” Roth said.
“They can cure cancer but they can’t cure diabetes,” she added with a laugh.
Roth, who has served as executive director of the Chamber of Commerce among other positions in town, continues to see Drs. Andikyan and Jain at Danbury Hospital to monitor health through routine follow up appointments.
She works for Apple now and said that setting goals helped her to overcome cancer — as well as the support she received from the community and her doctors.
“Dealing with cancer takes perseverance. You need a lot of buoying up. It’s important to seek out the type of support that will make you feel safe and cared for,” said Roth. “I’m very thankful for The Praxair Cancer Center at Danbury Hospital. Everyone there was kind, patient, and caring, including the therapy dogs. They embraced my situation and from when I first checked in to when I left, I felt like I was part of a family.”
“They also connected me with a host of outpatient services, including Ann’s Place, which helped me to better manage my cancer,” she said.
Roth encourages people in the community to keep supporting those who are battling an illness — and to keep supporting the Danbury Hospital.
“I want others to know that when you do something nice, it goes so much farther than you might imagine,” she said. “When I think of what people said to me and did for me, well, that’s what got me out of my bed. I was bald, and I didn’t feel good. But, I still got out of bed.”
One thing that helped her keep getting out of bed was taking in an 18-year-old exchange student from Shanghai, China.
“It helped me not focus on the discomfort and the pain,” she said. “My focus was on raising this young person and helping them on their journey to self discovery.
“It was enormously powerful and helped me weather the storm,” Roth added. “Having to cook her meals and take her to school made me stronger.”
Although she could not control the cancer, Roth learned she could control her outlook. She thought about the culmination of all of the good and challenging times in her life and realized that she had the skills and strength to handle her cancer diagnosis.
“I considered myself a survivor from day one of my diagnosis,” said Roth. “I focused on having a positive outcome. I set a goal to get through my treatments and overcome the cancer so I could go on an African safari.”
In September 2017, her doctors cleared her for her 10-day trip.
“I went to Africa with my friend and her charitable organization. I taught women to sew and I went on a safari. My trip emphasized what I learned from having cancer — to see life from a different perspective, to have compassion, and to practice gratitude.”