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One Woman Beats Ovarian Cancer, Now Empowers Others to Do the Same

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Michele Coriale has always taken care of herself. She exercises and does yoga daily, eats well, and visits her doctor regularly. So, when she began to develop strange symptoms, she knew something wasn’t right.

About four years ago, Michele (42 years old) began having all sorts of abdominal issues — including bloating, gas, diarrhea, and vomiting. On top of this, she started to feel tired more often and noticed an increased frequency in urination. Since she had always maintained an active and healthy lifestyle, these symptoms were out of the ordinary.

Unfortunately, the symptoms of ovarian cancer are most often vague, which makes it difficult to diagnose early. Michele saw several doctors, from general practitioners to gastrointestinal specialists to immunologists. These specialists evaluated her for food sensitivities, irritable bowel syndrome, muscle breakdown, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other conditions — but not gynecological cancer.

Insisting on care when necessary

Michele, thankfully, was aware of ovarian cancer and wondered if this could be the cause of her symptoms. In November 2017, she noticed an unusual vaginal discharge, visited her gynecologist, and insisted on a pelvic ultrasound.

The ultrasound revealed a six-inch mass on her ovary, and she was immediately sent to see a gynecologic oncologist. Dr. Melissa Frey, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medicine, saw Michele the next day. “That discharge — and Dr. Frey — saved my life,” said Michele.

Fortunately, the cancer had been caught early enough (stage IIB) that the mass was operable.

“Dr. Frey sat me down before the surgery and told me our options,” Michele recalled, “I trusted her. She wanted to cure me, but she knew it was important I maintain a high quality of life as well. She cared about me as a person, not just my disease.”

On November 29th, 2017, Michele had a full hysterectomy, as well as part of her colon removed and resected. She spent six days in the hospital and was then seen at home by a visiting nurse in the weeks following her operation.

Taking things one day at a time

One month later, Michele began chemotherapy. Though the treatment was difficult, Michele kept up a positive attitude, both in body and mind. “Even after the surgery, I had a good attitude. I tried hard to stay optimistic. I knew I needed to embrace it,” she smiled.

Michele’s medical team at Weill Cornell Medicine was a big part of her recovery process.

“I had a great team of doctors and nurses, which made a huge difference,” she acknowledged, “Dr. Frey is a highly skilled surgeon. And at the same time, she was very encouraging; she helped me to stay positive, enjoy life, and maintain normalcy throughout my treatment.”

Despite the physical toll of chemotherapy, Michele kept up her active routine. “I continued walking and practicing yoga up until the last round. Even on the worst days, I went for a walk,” she recounted.

Enjoying the next chapter of her life

Today Michele is cancer free and only needs to see Dr. Frey every few months for monitoring. She is thankful for Dr. Frey’s vigilant treatment and the entire team’s compassionate care.

“I think of all the doctors and other healthcare professionals at Weill Cornell Medicine as ‘my team.’ That’s one of the reasons I’m grateful to live in New York!” she explained.

She now focuses her time and attention on making sure other women are aware of ovarian cancer and what can be done to catch it. Michele recognizes that ovarian cancer is difficult to detect and diagnose — and many women prefer to believe that it will never happen to them.

“Instead of thinking, ‘What I don’t know won’t hurt me,’ we should understand that knowledge is power,” she asserted.

Promoting proactive early detection

Michele shares her story in the hope of helping other women. She writes a lifestyle blog, which includes her cancer story, and is an active member of national organizations such as Gilda’s Club and FORCE (Facing our Risk of Cancer Empowered), which offer support and educational resources for those affected by cancer.

Michele said, “Another organization near and dear to my heart is Tina’s Wish, a non-profit organization dedicated to ovarian cancer research.” She continued, “I’ve been very open about my diagnosis and treatment.’ By sharing her journey, she hopes to reach more women; encouraging vigilance, empowering action, and supporting those with similar experiences.

She, like Dr. Frey, is also a strong advocate for genetic testing. Having had genetic screening done to discover she is BRCA1+ (a gene mutation which predisposes you to breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer), Michele plans on doing a preventive bilateral mastectomy within the next year. In addition, she has begun the process of pancreatic cancer screening.

“Early detection is so important. Women need to start demanding it,” Michele insisted. “Every woman should have the option to get tested.”

Learn more about the Weill Cornell Breast Center Genetic Risk Assessment Program.

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