This week H*O*P*E*™ highlights and honors Katie Fetzer. Katie is a 25-year old kindergartner teacher and an inspirational ovarian cancer survivor. A nagging pain that never went away and only seemed to grow in intensity prompted Fetzer to make a visit to her doctor in 2006. An ultrasound revealed a large mass on her left ovary, so she followed up with her gynecologist. Her gynecologist referred the young woman, who hadn’t even had the chance to begin her career as a teacher yet, to a gynecologic oncologist.
“He looked me right in the eye and said, ‘I will take care of this for you,'” Fetzer said of her oncologist. “And then,” she added, “I could breathe again.” Subsequent to the initial diagnosis, Fetzer had three surgeries-one to remove her left ovary as well as lymph nodes in her abdominal area; another to remove lymph nodes in her neck; and the last, which was in January 2007, to remove her remaining ovary. The nodes were removed because some of the cancerous cells invaded her lymphatic system. Fetzer also undergoes CT scans every six months as follow-up. She has not received radiation or chemotherapy because these types of treatments work best on fast-growing cells, and her cancer cells are slow-growing.
Katie’s gynecological oncologist went above and beyond when he helped her find a way to harvest some of her eggs before her ovaries were removed. The eggs were extracted and frozen right after Christmas 2006, before her second ovary was removed. “I call it my Christmas miracle,” she said, adding “It was a no-brainer for me to do this. I’ve always wanted to be a mom and to have that taken away from me was terrifying. … After the success of the egg harvesting, I feel so calm. I don’t have to worry.”
Now, Katie lives her life moment by moment, but certainly to its fullest. “It’s a sticky subject because these cells are still in your body and I think it’s a matter of if and when something triggers them,” she said. “… [O]ne of the biggest changes I’ve made is to not sweat the small stuff. … Now that I have basically a new shot – a new chance – I try to prioritize on what’s really important. Like, should I worry about tomorrow? Well, no, because tomorrow is not here.”
Fetzer is making a difference by speaking and educating others about ovarian cancer. Always a teacher at heart, Katie speaks to medical students and medical professionals in training as part of an educational ovarian cancer awareness program sponsored by the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance (OCNA). Through OCNA’s innovative educational program, Survivors Teaching Students: Saving Women’s Lives(SM), future healthcare professionals – physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses and physician assistants – increase their understanding of ovarian cancer symptoms and risk factors so that they can diagnose the disease when it is in its earlier, treatable stages.
Survivors Teaching Students brings ovarian cancer survivors, like Katie, into medical school classrooms to share their stories and key information about the disease. The program is now conducted in more than 50 medical schools around the country and in a number of nurse practitioner, nursing and physician assistant training programs.
During Katie’s teaching sessions, she tells her story to illustrate the difficulty of early diagnosis and the resulting extended and recurring treatment, thereby putting a face and voice to the disease. In turn, Katie’s “students” gain insights into listening to a patient’s concerns and become sensitized to the psychosocial aspects of ovarian cancer as well as the need for early detection.
Katie is in her second year of teaching for the school district of East Troy, Wisconsin. Her kindergartners love her — so much so that her students sent her handmade get well cards when she was hospitalized and made her a quilt. As a result of her earlier surgeries, Katie has a 9-inch abdominal scar. When Katie’s kindergartner students ask if she has a scar from her surgery, Katie simply smiles and tells them that “scars are just tattoos with better stories.”
Katie’s courage and her willingness to make a difference in the fight against ovarian cancer was highlighted in a television news story created by ABC affiliate WISN (Channel 12). The inspirational WISN video is provided below.
[Quoted Source: Twenty-four candles – plus five – Patient celebrates Aurora Women’s Pavilion’s milestone, by Sue Suleski, WestAllisNOW.com, June 29, 2007.]
Young Cancer Survivor Teaches Medical Students About the Warning Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
WISN – Channel 12 News Story