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Her 'best chance': A patient finds compassionate, innovative care at the U

The moment Jill Paulus, of Lino Lakes, Minnesota, learned last December that she had ovarian cancer, she told her oncologist that she’d do whatever it took to get leading-edge care.

Jill Paulus (left), here with research nurse Sue Mitchell, R.N., has taken part in clinical studies to help advance knowledge about ovarian cancer.

“I said, ‘I want to go to the best hospital to have this done. I’ll go anywhere; I’ll travel out of the state. I want the best chance possible: I have three children at home,” 38-year-old Paulus says. “And he suggested Dr. [Patricia] Judson.”

Eight months later, Paulus and her husband, Tom, have no doubts that she found the right physician. “You can’t imagine how many times I’ve told her: ‘I am so thankful you were where you were when I needed you.’”

Paulus has stage 4 ovarian cancer. She had a pelvic exam with her regular physician in April 2006 and checked out fine. Apart from what seemed like “tummy trouble” that fall—a gastroenterologist was slated to look into it in January—Paulus felt no symptoms until Christmas Eve, when she was gripped with excruciating abdominal pain. A CT scan taken on December 26 revealed the cancer.

Though much of her cancer was removed in surgery soon after diagnosis, she still has a tumor on her stomach, as well as a nodule on one lung.

After surgery, Paulus was enrolled in two of Judson’s active studies: one looking at the possible efficacy of an additional drug to treat ovarian cancer, and another examining outcomes using complementary and alternative medicine in ovarian cancer patients. The latter study incorporates massage, healing touch, and hypnosis.

Though she soon became ineligible for both studies as the first-line drugs proved ineffective in slowing her cancer, Paulus found the complementary therapy treatments to be relaxing and restorative.

“The massage and hypnosis were wonderful,” Paulus says. “It’s nice to be pampered while you’re getting chemo.”

Whatever the outcome of Judson’s study, Paulus believes those therapies were beneficial for her. And she’s grateful to have had the chance to help advance knowledge about cancer.

“I have two sisters, and between us we have four daughters. My grandmother died of cancer,” Paulus says. “If I can do anything to spare someone from having to go through this, I’d do it.”

Because of her family history, Paulus feared that she might carry one of the gene mutations known to increase the risk for ovarian cancer. She was tested and learned in April that she doesn’t have either mutation.

“I was a nervous wreck that I might have passed that on to my kids,” Paulus says. Getting that negative test result was “a tremendous relief.”

Paulus believes her experience has made her sisters and girlfriends more vigilant and more prepared to advocate for their health. But she would like to see all women better informed about the disease she and Judson are fighting.

“There needs to be more awareness of ovarian cancer and how it truly is ‘silent,’” Paulus says.

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