A Cancer Survivor’s Advice on Getting Through a Diagnosis

Carla Warchol, a registered nurse at ProMedica Toledo Hospital for nearly 20 years, now utilizes her RN degree as a health educator for Paramount Healthcare’s quality improvement department. She is mother, a grandmother and an identical twin to her sister, Darla. Nothing brings her more joy than spending time with her family and especially, her four small grandchildren.

As a former nurse, Carla understands the importance of making the right health choices for her own body.

A Woman’s Intuition

In 2011, Carla started to experience some vague symptoms: Bloating, nausea and bleeding. She dealt with the symptoms for almost a year, but grew increasingly concerned. Seventeen years prior, she had a hysterectomy, but there weren’t any complications that she knew of.

Her inner nurse convinced her to schedule an appointment with her gynecologist. During the appointment, she was encouraged to go through several tests. The only findings were some ovarian cysts.

Carla was not satisfied. Her intuition told her to seek a second opinion.

That December, she visited Garth Phibbs, MD, gynecologic oncologist at ProMedica Toledo Hospital. After discussing her symptoms and previous test results, Dr. Phibbs scheduled her for a more in-depth biopsy procedure.

Just three days later, she received the most unexpected news. She was diagnosed with stage 3 endometrial cancer.

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Never Say Never

“I worried about ovarian cancer because my ovaries were not removed during my hysterectomy, but how could I possibly have endometrial cancer without a uterus?” Carla says. Her doctor explained that some endometrial tissue could have been left behind during her hysterectomy surgery years ago.

“I was devastated and terrified by the diagnosis. I really hadn’t heard of many survivors then,” Carla recalls. It was very difficult for Carla to tell her daughters, Katie and Christie, and her son Eric. When she told her twin sister, Darla, she was shocked to learn that her nephew was also diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. It was truly a scary time, but both sisters embarked on their journeys together and received the utmost support from their families. Carla’s family even scheduled a meeting with Steven Rubin, MD, radiation oncologist at ProMedica Flower Hospital to discuss her treatment plan together.

In January 2012, Carla underwent surgery at ProMedica Toledo Hospital. The surgery consisted of a radical vaginectomy, removal of her bilateral tubes and ovaries, peritoneal washing and lymph node biopsies.

Six weeks later, she started to go through 25 external and four internal radiation treatments at ProMedica Flower Hospital’s Hickman Cancer Center. This meant treatment appointments almost every day for five consecutive weeks.

Keep an Open Mind

“Before my first treatment, I expected the cancer center to be a dreary place. I soon learned that the opposite was true. I couldn’t believe how nice everyone was. Everybody knew my name and even my daughter, Katie’s, who accompanied me to most of my appointments.” Carla says. She continued to work every day and fitted her treatments in the best she could.

The date of her final radiation treatment, April 27, 2012, is one that she will never forget.

She was relieved, but worried at the same time. “I felt like my safety net was gone. I was so used to having regular exams, check-ups and help with symptom management when I needed it,” she says.

She feels extremely lucky to have found the Survivor Center at ProMedica Flower Hospital Hickman Cancer Center.

During her first appointment at the Survivor Center, she met with certified nurse practitioner, Jill Johnson and medical oncologist, Kenneth Krupp, MD. After a physical examination and review of her treatment and health history, they discussed her concerns and next steps together. That day, she left with a personalized survivorship care plan. As part of her plan, she regularly attends Bridge to Fitness exercise programs with other survivors.

Her annual visit to the Survivor Center has helped her release many worries and find her new normal.

Carla’s advice for anyone going through a similar experience:

  • You know your body best. Don’t ever accept someone telling you otherwise. A first opinion shouldn’t always be the last.
  • If you have been diagnosed with cancer, learn about all of your support resources and use them.
  • If you are uncomfortable or having any kind of issue during your treatment journey, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Lean on others who have experienced cancer before, like me. People who have gone through a similar experience are the best mentors. It means a lot to me to be able to help someone else.

Carla looks forward to attending ProMedica Cancer Institute’s cancer survivor celebration this year, where she’ll have the opportunity to reconnect with her doctors, nurses and survivor friends again. This year, she celebrates four years of being cancer free!

Learn more about cancer diagnosis, treatment and support.