June 28, 2022 by Peter B. Laird
Endometrial Cancer Survivor Credits Survival to Oncologist’s Persistence
Sometimes, even the most sophisticated medical tests and technology are no match for a doctor’s own experience and intuition. Just ask Edith Odabashian, whose oncologist at Lynn Cancer institute suspected that there was something going on with her health that multiple different tests had failed to confirm.
Mrs. Odabashian, a retired German-born fashion designer who has made Pompano Beach her home for more than 30 years, began to experience some unusual symptoms in March 2021 that she thought may be related to an ovarian cyst. She had had the cyst for decades and was being followed annually by her gynecologist, Michael Fleischer, M.D., at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, which is part of Baptist Health South Florida. It was Dr. Fleischer who had referred her to the hospital’s Lynn Women’s Institute for her yearly mammograms.
Mrs. Odabashian recalls the onset of her symptoms. “One day I was shopping, just pushing my cart, and I felt a sharp pain. The next week, I began to have fluid draining from the vagina and pain so I went to see Dr. Fleischer right away,” she recalls. “He ran some tests and an ultrasound confirmed that the ovarian cyst was still there, and it also showed that there was a large amount of fluid in the uterus.” Dr. Fleischer ordered a CA-125 blood antigen test for Mrs. Odabashian. The results came back “on the high side,” he told her, meaning there was a possibility she had cancer.
Something wasn’t right. Mrs. Odabashian’s pain and drainage of fluid from her vagina continued. The presence of any drainage of fluid or discharge from the vagina or any vaginal bleeding in patients like Mrs. Odabashian who have already undergone menopause is abnormal and often it is an early sign of cancer of the uterus.
Dr. Fleischer referred his patient to Thomas Morrissey, M.D., Director of Gynecologic Oncology at Lynn Cancer Institute, which is part of Boca Raton Regional Hospital. As part of his evaluation, Dr. Morrissey ordered a CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis.
“Mrs. Odabashian had a CT scan which revealed an irregular thickening of the lining of her uterus,” Dr. Morrissey recalls, adding that this was likely the cause of the new vaginal drainage she was experiencing. “Something was abnormal, however, and we needed to determine whether or not it was cancer.” A biopsy of the uterine lining done in his office showed atypical cells that were suspicious for cancer.
Given that she was beyond her child-bearing years – “A lady doesn’t divulge her age,” she says with a laugh – Dr. Morrissey recommended a total hysterectomy, or removal of her uterus and ovaries. “I was so surprised,” Mrs. Odabashian recalls.
Although she had complete faith in Dr. Morrissey, Mrs. Odabashian was reluctant to accept his recommendation to have the surgery. But then, she says, something happened that changed her mind. A deeply religious woman, she says that God spoke to her one day. “He said just one word – ‘Cancer.’ And that was all I needed, so I scheduled my surgery with Dr. Morrissey, and I knew that God would show us where my cancer was.”
Soon afterward, Mrs. Odabashian underwent a robotic-assisted, laparoscopic total hysterectomy and removal of the fallopian tubes and ovaries. According to Dr. Morrissey, this state-of-the-art approach means smaller incisions, a quicker recovery time and faster return to normal activities. “Patients usually go home from the hospital the same day,” he says.
Mrs. Odabashian’s uterus was sent to the pathology lab for analysis during the surgery. Sure enough, it tested positive for cancer. “It was a very early cancer in the endometrial lining of her uterus,” explains Dr. Morrissey, who diagnosed her with stage 1A endometrial cancer. “It had grown only 20 percent of the way into the uterine wall, so fortunately we had been able to detect and treat her cancer at a very early stage.” Because the cancer was caught so early, no additional treatment was necessary, he says.
Endometrial cancer is the most common gynecologic cancer, Dr. Morrissey says, with more than 80,000 cases diagnosed each year. “It’s also the most curable – if it’s caught early,” he stresses. “Any vaginal bleeding or new vaginal discharge or drainage in postmenopausal patients is abnormal. If you are in menopause and have any vaginal bleeding or discharge or fluid drainage at all, you should be evaluated right away by a gynecologist.”
For her part, Mrs. Odabashian is grateful to Dr. Morrissey for his persistence with her case. “I feel very lucky. Up to that point, all the lab reports had said I don’t have cancer and all my relatives were telling me I don’t have cancer,” she says. “But Dr. Morrissey thought I did have cancer and he was persistent on this point. And he was right. He saved my life.”
These days, Mrs. Odabashian is feeling better and getting back to her daily routine with the help of home health care aide. She continues to see Dr. Morrissey and Dr. Fleischer every six months and keeps up with her mammograms and other health screenings. She says that, whenever possible, she prefers to have her healthcare needs tended to at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, which is home to Lynn Cancer Institute, Lynn Women’s Health & Wellness Institute, and other leading programs and services.
“I was just so impressed with Lynn Women’s Institute and Lynn Cancer Institute,” says Mrs. Odabashian. “The people there were so nice and treated me so well. They had all the latest equipment and I got my test results back quickly. And, of course, they took such good care of me with my cancer.”