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Discover Hope

Kathy’s Story: Survivorship Program Gives Hope While Battling Uterine Cancer

Jun. 13, 2022

When you receive a cancer diagnosis, the right support system is a critical part of treatment and helps provide better outcomes.

In early 2021, 57-year-old Kathy Rubenstein started having sharp back pain. She went and saw her chiropractor, but the pain continued.

She sought additional specialists to see if they could find out what was wrong—and as it turns out, it was cancer. Despite being in the best health of her life with little family history of cancer, Kathy would discover she had a rare form of uterine cancer, turning her life upside down.

Originally from Louisiana, Kathy currently resides in Cincinnati, and loves to travel and spend time with friends. Little did she know, she would need to rely on these close friends during the most frightening time of her life.

Kathy had never experienced back pain before, so when it started in January 2021, she was concerned, but figured it would be a relatively quick fix with a trip to the chiropractor.

After continuously worsening pain, she had an MRI done on her back, which revealed cancer in her bones and a large mass in her uterus.

“When we saw Kathy in the office, we got scans that showed she had a mass all the way up to her rib cage, and she also had cancer in her bones and some cancer in her lungs,”  Amanda Jackson, MD, UC Health physician, division director of gynecologic oncology at the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center and associate professor of clinical at the UC College of Medicine explained. “At that point, we had to figure out what kind of cancer it was, and it came back as a type of uterine cancer called leiomyosarcoma.”

Understanding Leiomyosarcoma

There are two types of uterine cancer—cancer of the lining (endometrial cancer) and a muscle tumor of the uterus (sarcoma). In Kathy’s case of leiomyosarcoma—a rare type of cancer that begins in smooth muscle tissue—it’s a cancer of the muscle fibers in the uterus, and is usually hard to diagnose.

Initially, Kathy wasn’t going to tell anyone about her cancer diagnosis. She never could have expected that her back pain was a result of cancer.

“I wasn’t able to sleep that first night after getting my diagnosis and realized I had to tell people,” Kathy said.

Kathy was referred to the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center but wasn’t familiar with it, not being from the area. She was able to speak to Dr. Jackson on a Friday afternoon, where the two reviewed her diagnosis and got her in for additional imaging.

The next part of the plan was to offer Kathy as many additional resources as she could as she began treatment for her cancer. The Cancer Center features a plethora of multidisciplinary experts who are subspecialists in all types of cancers—which can’t be found elsewhere in the region. In addition, the Cancer Center features specialists from other practices of medicine, including radiology, physical therapy and integrative health.

All of these experts are involved as part of a patient’s treatment, including Kathy’s. The Cancer Center focuses on treating the whole patient—not just the cancer.

“I quickly realized that the Cancer Center is very integrated with other disciplines,” Kathy said. “If I have questions, they always answer. They make me feel important.”

Part of Kathy’s treatment included participating in the Cancer Center’s Survivorship Program, which gives patients additional resources they can use throughout their cancer journey, even after it’s done. These resources include exercise wellness, physical therapy, yoga, massage therapy and acupuncture.

In partnership with The Osher Center for Integrative Health, the Cancer Center opened the region’s first Integrative Health & Cancer Survivorship Clinic in February 2021, which is led by Mladen Golubic, MD, PhD, UC Health physician, medical director for UC Health Integrative Health and professor of family and integrative health at the UC College of Medicine, and Melissa Erickson, MD, medical director of the Cancer Center’ Survivorship Program and an adjunct assistant professor at the UC College of Medicine.

“The Cancer Center focuses on quality of life, which is something unique,” Dr. Jackson explained. “This includes our survivorship program that helps patients better deal with their diagnosis and give them the best quality of life to lower their burden throughout their journey.”

Kathy began chemotherapy to treat her cancer, but she also participated in other services offered through the survivorship program. She participated in cancer wellness exercise, which helps treat the whole person. Following chemotherapy, she had back surgery to rebuild a disc that had collapsed as a result of the cancer. Along the way, she had immense support from family, friends and, of course, her care team.

“My friends are terrific. They know what is going on and give me the support I need,” Kathy said. “I have received an overwhelming outpour of love and support.”

Support and Cancer Survivorship

It’s been a year and a half since her original diagnosis, and although she is still on her cancer journey, Kathy continues to persevere. She has little pain in her back, but it’s a lot better than it was. She is now retired and has recently enrolled in a clinical trial for her cancer. She has hope for better days ahead.

“I feel so lucky to have the Cancer Center right here in Cincinnati,” she said. “Any time you can stay home for care, you should. Not having to leave town for care put me at ease.”

Kathy has also started a cancer fund in her name for people to donate, with all of the proceeds going toward patient education and research by Dr. Jackson at the Cancer Center. Throughout her cancer journey, Kathy has realized how important research and science is in order to give others hope if they are in the same position she is. Both of these elements are vital parts of the mission at the Cancer Center.

“The University of Cincinnati Cancer Center is best equipped to deal with cancers of the most routine to the most complicated because we have such a unique approach to each cancer,” Dr. Jackson explained. “Each cancer has its own unique, dedicated team wherein that type of cancer is their expertise. We also believe in research and education, and we are always trying to make sure that every patient is looked at for a research trial that could give them a better outcome.”

Despite the hard journey, Kathy tries her best to always have a positive outlook in life. She wants to give back as much as she can, including through her cancer fund. She also remains close with Dr. Jackson, who, from the very first meeting that Friday afternoon, put her at ease.

“I would highly recommend the Cancer Center to anyone. I made the right choice,” Kathy said. “They treat the person, not just the disease. I don’t know how my story will end, but I hope it will end the right way.”