Marilyn Sacks-Rabin is a soft-spoken clinical psychologist. She spends her free time going for walks, cooking, reading, and participating in book groups. She likes to travel, and she loves the mountains. Marilyn is happily married, with one son and one daughter, both adults now.
In June 2011 Marilyn happened to discover something a bit unsettling. She noticed a dark vaginal discharge, and knew right away that she needed to see a doctor. The very next day, she called Rose Medical Center gynecologist Dr. Wendy Berenbaum to set up an appointment. Dr. Berenbaum brought her in right away.
It didn’t take Dr. Berenbaum long to examine Marilyn’s symptoms and evaluate her condition. Marilyn was diagnosed with pre-cancer of the vulva right away, and Dr. Berenbaum set up a meeting with Marilyn and her husband for later that day.
“When I first got the diagnosis, I immediately called my husband. He, as usual, was very calming and very caring,” says Marilyn. She is very thankful for the efforts made by Dr. Berenbaum to address her needs and meet with her husband so quickly.
Dr. Berenbaum also made it a priority to contact Rose gynecologic oncologist Dr. Daniel Donato that same day. Moving things along with exceptional speed, Marilyn was scheduled to have surgery later that week.
Everyone communicated her treatment plan very effectively, so that she could begin as soon as possible. For Marilyn, the successful coordination between her doctors was an incredible gift. She says she was able to avoid a lot of stress and worry because of how rapidly she began her treatment.
Not only is it important to act quickly to treat the cancer effectively, but it also reduces the overwhelming anxiety that follows a diagnosis, says Marilyn.
Dr. Donato performed the surgery, removing the tumor during the procedure. The final pathology, however, did show an invasive cancer. The next step was to determine if any lymph nodes were involved, so a second surgery was necessary to sample the lymph nodes. The latest technique involves sampling the “sentinel nodes.” If these are negative, an extensive resection of the remaining nodes is not needed.
“The hardest part was the fear between the first surgery and the second surgery,” she says. Whereas the time before the first surgery left her virtually no time to speculate and obsess, the days leading up to her second surgery were very hard to deal with. Marilyn waited in anticipation and tried to prepare for the worst.
When she awoke from her second surgery, Dr. Donato had visited her with the results of the procedure, but she had been too disoriented to recall what he had said. As it turned out, the cancer had not spread. Marilyn found out about the good news when she saw the look on her son’s face, she says.
Once she saw her son smiling, she knew the cancer had not spread. Everyone burst into tears.
Ultimately, she was very pleased with the level of care she received during both surgeries. It was the little efforts made by the medical staff that meant so much to Marilyn.
“Dr. Donato was always just so supportive, and so kind, and so gentle. I had a wonderful experience with him and his staff,” she says.
During her second surgery, she was especially moved by the efforts of the medical staff to make her as comfortable as possible. Marilyn has a condition that causes her a lot of pain, and the pain tends to become much worse when she is cold.
Operating rooms are kept very cold during surgical procedures. Knowing this, Marilyn shared her concerns with the staff before her second surgery. During her second procedure, members of her medical team continuously covered her with warm blankets. When Marilyn came out of surgery, the pain she was used to feeling in her shoulder wasn’t there.
“I just appreciated that so much. I thought that was just so kind and nurturing,” she says.
The next step for Marilyn was to begin radiation therapy, which she had every day for six weeks. She was very glad to have her daughter, who often drove Marilyn to her treatments, by her side during those unrelenting visits to the hospital.
She says her experience with radiation therapy was just about as positive as it could be, and she remembers the Rose Radiation Oncology Center as a very nice and upbeat place.
At the end of her six-week radiation treatment, her radiation oncologist, Dr. Daniel Chin, decided the radiation had been successful and that she no longer needed treatment. After some follow-up with the radiation oncologist, Marilyn was able to get back to doing the things she loves.
She still visits Dr. Donato for regular check-ups, but she has been doing very well, and she is thankful for how successful her case has been. In fact, she has even been able to decrease her visits to Dr. Donato’s office, and he explained to her that after two years, the likelihood of the cancer reoccurring is very low.
Marilyn finished her treatment around October 2011, and her four-month battle with cancer was finally in the past. She remains cancer free.
“I can’t say enough good things about Rose,” she says. “It was great, they were really great. [They are] very sensitive to cancer and the specific needs of cancer patients.”
Marilyn’s family was instrumental in supporting her during those difficult months.
“I don’t know what I would’ve done without my family. They were just absolutely incredible,” says Marilyn.
The support of her friends also gave her strength. She always felt the love and care surrounding her, even when she wasn’t well enough to talk to her friends or return their calls. To Marilyn, it always seemed that her friends and her family were feeling what she was feeling—that she was not going through it alone.
“My friends were incredible, it was like they were feeling it themselves, and I just could not ask for a better group of friends,” she says. “I didn’t know how much people could love me before this happened.”
When asked what advice she would offer to someone else battling cancer: “Just trust that people really love you and want to be there for you.”
The Rose “Surviving Well” calendar is a 12-month calendar highlighting our cancer services, physicians and inspirational stories from our patients. Marilyn is our survivor for June.