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Hysterectomy Uncovers Early State Ovarian Cancer for Woodcliff Lake Woman

Typically, we photograph every patient appearing in HealthU. Because this story was planned during the COVID-19 pandemic, that contact would have been too risky. Instead, our team took a creative approach and replaced photo shoots with illustrated portraits of patients.

When Yuli Ochoa learned that her friend had been diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer, an alarm went off in her mind.

At 62 years old, the Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, resident was about the same age as her friend and had been going to the same gynecologist for about four years but had never actually seen the doctor. Her visits were always with a physician’s assistant.

“I was just getting a pap smear and mammogram and thought it was fine not to see the doctor,” Yuli says. “But I have a history of infertility and multiple treatments that left me with Asherman’s syndrome [a condition caused by the buildup of scar tissue in the uterus from surgical scraping and endometriosis]. I felt like I needed a doctor to monitor the situation.”

Yuli’s friend had also been looking for more attentive care. She had concerning symptoms that weren’t directly addressed by her current doctor, so she consulted a different doctor seven months later and got her late-stage diagnosis.

“I read about her cancer, and I realized that a pap smear doesn’t screen for ovarian cancer,” Yuli says. “My sister-in-law said, ‘You have to see Dr. Asulin.’”

A Robotic Approach

From her first visit with Yitzhack Asulin, M.D., Yuli felt she was in good hands. Dr. Asulin, who is director of robotic female pelvic reconstruction surgery at Pascack Valley Medical Center, considered Yuli’s entire medical history, recent pains, unusual postmenopausal bleeding and the sudden distention she was experiencing in her abdomen.

“Everything in her pelvic anatomy was glued together like a cement block because of prior treatments she’d had,” Dr. Asulin says. Because Yuli was beyond her childbearing years and the damage to her anatomy was significant, Dr. Asulin recommended a robotic hysterectomy to remove her uterus and other surrounding structures, and relieve her symptoms.

Hysterectomies are the second-most common surgery performed on women in the U.S., but only a small percentage of these procedures are done robotically. The benefits of robotic surgery are immense. An open abdominal hysterectomy often involves a large incision and painful recovery. What’s more, it can be imprecise and leave internal scarring. Robotic surgery uses a high-definition camera and a four-armed machine to achieve pinpoint accuracy.

“When you use the camera, everything is magnified multiple times, and every little structure is in your face,” Dr. Asulin says. “This system is able to work in a meticulous way. It’s like peeling a grape without touching the inside. I don’t leave small pieces or segments behind. This allows us to dissect the structures precisely and the pathologist to see a problem, like cancer, in a specimen.”

Yuli’s incision was about two centimeters in length, Dr. Asulin says, and most women like her are able to go home the day of the procedure. For Yuli, the experience was like night and day from the surgeries she had in the past to treat infertility.

“I told Dr. Asulin I wasn’t looking forward to the pain after surgery, and he said, ‘I assure you, you’re not going to have pain,’” Yuli remembers. “When I woke up, I was waiting for the pain, but I didn’t have any. It’s amazing.”

Taking Control of Her Health

During the procedure, Dr. Asulin spotted a small abnormality on Yuli’s fallopian tube where it met her ovary—something he could only have seen with the robotic camera. When the pathologist examined the tissue after surgery, Yuli was surprised to learn it was ovarian cancer, the same as her friend.

Ovarian cancer is sometimes called a silent killer because it can be asymptomatic until it reaches a late stage. Had Yuli not had the procedure to relieve her other symptoms, the cancer might not have been caught until it was too late.

“I still sometimes cannot believe I’m so lucky,” Yuli says. “Cancer makes you look at your life again. I feel like I was touched by death. But I also feel Dr. Asulin saved my life.”

Though Yuli’s cancer is an extremely aggressive type, catching it at an early stage and treating her immediately has been crucial to her prognosis. “Everything is pointing to a great outcome,” she says.

As she looks forward to life as a cancer survivor, Yuli is motivated to empower other women to take control of their health like she did.

“I’ve recently talked to some women who aren’t happy with their gynecologist, and I said, ‘Follow your heart. Get a second or third opinion. You have to take care of yourself,’” she says. “We have to educate ourselves about our health. I’m not a mother, but I always felt in my heart that I was. I see how mothers put themselves last for their family, but at a certain point, you have to take care of yourself. Without us, there is no family.”

Next Steps & Resources:

Learn about all the Women’s Center at Pascack Valley Medical Center has to offer, including breast care, gynecologic medicine, maternity services, imaging and diagnostics

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

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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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