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Bergenfield, New Jersey, Mom Bravely Faces a Rare but Aggressive Form of Cancer

November 10, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this story:

Seven years ago at the age of 47, Maureen Farrell of Bergenfield, New Jersey, was working as a dental hygienist, supporting herself and her two children, then ages 12 and 15. She was recently divorced and getting her life back together. “I was on the verge of a new beginning,” she says. Then, the unthinkable happened.

It started with back pain, which she attributed to being on her feet all day at work. But an MRI revealed a malignant tumor located close to her spine. She needed immediate surgery, which orthopedic surgeon Richard Rhim, M.D., performed the day after the tumor was found. A tumor was also found in her abdomen. Surgery was required to remove that, too, followed by radiation and chemotherapy.

The cause of the tumors was a rare uterine cancer called leiomyosarcoma, says Donna McNamara, M.D., Maureen’s oncologist at John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center. Leiomyosarcoma accounts for less than 10 percent of all uterine cancers, but it tends to be more aggressive with a high risk of recurrence and death at any stage. Fewer than one-third of women diagnosed with stage IV, like Maureen, are alive five years after diagnosis.

A Fighter’s Heart

After the surgeries, Dr. McNamara started Maureen on chemotherapy. “She initially had a very difficult time, but she was a fighter and made it through all the necessary treatments,” Dr. McNamara says.

Following the initial surgeries and chemotherapy, Maureen had additional surgery to remove remaining tumor tissue and then began maintenance therapy, which included two more rounds of chemotherapy.

While going through the third round of chemotherapy in 2018, Maureen suffered an intestinal rupture, which caused sepsis. Surgeon Jeffrey Kraft, M.D., performed emergency surgery and, three days later, placed an ileostomy bag to collect bodily waste.

“The bag on my belly was traumatic and difficult for me,” Maureen says. “For the three months with the bag, it was horrible.” Fortunately, Dr. Kraft was able to do another surgery to repair her intestine, and the bag was removed. “He saved my life in the ER and again by removing the bag,” she says. “He’s one of my angels.”

With no evidence of active disease, Maureen did not have to return to cancer treatment. Instead, she was closely monitored with bloodwork and scans.

A Second, Second Chance

In early 2021, one of those regular scans revealed Maureen once again had a pelvic mass growing. Gynecologic oncologist Ami Vaidja,M.D., who removed Maureen’s first pelvic tumor, performed the surgery to remove the new tumor. Fortunately, it was found to be precancerous, so no chemotherapy or radiation was needed as a follow-up. Since that surgery, Maureen has been taking a maintenance drug, remains without evidence of cancer and continues to have regular monitoring.

“I was given a second chance at life multiple times,” Maureen says. Today, she is once again working in a dental office, but doing administration rather than working on her feet directly with patients. She spends as much time as she can with her children, who are now 19 and 23, and enjoys hobbies such as cooking, knitting and thrift shopping.

“For a long time, I sat on the couch waiting for the other shoe to drop. Now I’ve gotten my life back,” she says. “I bounced back from everything thanks to the doctors at Hackensack.”

Next Steps & Resources:

Meet our source: Donna McNamara, M.D. To make an appointment with Dr. McNamara or a doctor near you, call 800-822-8905 or visit our website.

Learn more about comprehensive cancer treatment available at John Theurer Cancer Center

What are cancer vaccines?

How to form your cancer care team

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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