Saving One Life, Preserving Another

A gynecological oncologist at SBMC treated one patient's ovarian cancer—and helped her preserve her dream of conceiving a second child.




WHEN MAUREEN ZAVOCKI, 33, had trouble getting pregnant, her doctors found an unexpected problem, but it was a discovery that might have saved her life; she had a tumor in one ovary.

Upon the recommendation of several clinicians and friends, she went straight to The Cancer Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center (SBMC).

“My fertility doctor recommended I see Dr. (Thad) Denehy at Saint Barnabas Medical Center,” she says. “He’s a well-respected doctor with extensive training in gynecologic oncology, obstetrics and gynecology and robot-assisted surgery.”

In addition, he is part of a team of specialists, a “tumor board” at SBMC, that meets regularly to discuss treatment options. Patients benefit from the expertise of gynecologic oncologists, medical oncologists, surgical oncologists and other cancer specialists.

In addition, he is part of a team of specialists, a “tumor board” at SBMC, that meets regularly to discuss treatment options. Patients benefit from the expertise of gynecologic oncologists, medical oncologists, surgical oncologists and other cancer specialists.

This team identified the tumor as a rare type of cancer. Thankfully, the cancer was at a very early stage, when it is most treatable. “Knowing what type and subtype of cancer a patient has and what stage it is makes a significant difference in determining the right treatment,” says Jennifer Wagmiller, M.D., medical oncologist at SBMC. “Our team works very closely together to consider all factors to guide us to the best recommendation for each patient.”

Maureen’s team realized that treating her cancer was not the only goal for the young mother of a toddler. Preserving the chance to have a second child remained high on the list of priorities for Maureen and Cristin, her wife of four years.

“We liked Dr. Denehy from the beginning,” Maureen says. “He and everyone we met were very thorough. They gave me all of my options and answered all of our questions.”

She was concerned about chemotherapy, which can affect fertility. But Dr. Denehy assured Maureen that she could safely delay surgery and chemotherapy for a few weeks. This gave her the option of freezing her eggs, so conceiving a second child was still possible after treatment.

Maureen’s cancer diagnosis came in November 2018; she had her eggs frozen in January 2019; and Dr. Denehy performed surgery in February.

“Using the da Vinci robot-assisted system, we removed the tumor using a few small incisions, instead of a larger incision,” Dr. Denehy says. “And to help with recovery, we take steps before and after surgery to help all of our patients get back to regular activities more quickly.”

These steps include “enhanced recovery after surgery” and involve specific types of exercise, nutrition and pain management. This results in shorter hospital stays and quicker recovery, Dr. Denehy says.

“I got back to work within a week,” Maureen says. “That meant a lot since I had missed so much work in the previous months.”

Today, Maureen’s surgery and months of chemotherapy are behind her.

“Through every step, everyone at Saint Barnabas Medical Center empowered me to make my own decisions with confidence,” she says. “It was a whirlwind six months, but it’s all done. We can now move forward with our lives.”

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