My name is Sue Keely, and I am an ovarian cancer survivor. This is how my story began.
I have been involved in church music for most of my life. I was and am currently a member of the praise team at my church and the handbell choir director and working full time for a Pittsburgh area car dealership.
I noticed while preparing for the Easter service in 2015 that I was getting short of breath while singing. I figured that I was getting a little cold and not too worried. I also started to get a bad cough. My mom and sister get bronchitis easily, and both had just recovered.
We thought that was possibly what was wrong with me. I kept putting off going to get checked. I started losing my appetite and losing sleep. I was trying to get to the end of the month at work to close out the month. On April 29th, 2015, I was walking in the showroom and could not catch my breath. I went back to my desk and started to feel sick. I called home to let my mom know I was coming home and she could take me to the local Med Express so I could get checked out.
We went to Med Express, and I had X-rays and blood work done. After a waiting period, the doctor said that I needed to go to the hospital right down the street, but they wanted me to go by ambulance because the Emergency Room was busy, and they said I needed to be taken care of right away. So the ambulance came, and the EMT/Paramedic put my IV line in, and off we went to the hospital.
At the hospital, I had more X-rays, scans, and of course, more blood work. After another fairly long waiting period, a doctor informed my mother and me that I had a mass on my abdomen and wanted to know which women’s hospital I wanted to go to in Pittsburgh. I remember telling them to bring me to the one who accepted my health insurance because I didn’t want another difficult thing to deal with.
It was after midnight when everything was set for me to go to West Penn Hospital. I sent my parents home because I didn’t want them to travel back to New Castle in the early morning hours. My Dad told me later that was the hardest thing he ever did because watching the ambulance leave. He thought that would be the last time he would see me.
I got to my room in West Penn around 2 am on April 30th, and after a short conversation with the doctor on duty, the nurses put me to bed. The next day I saw so many doctors, doctors’ assistants, nurses, breathing specialists that I lost count. I met Dr. Eileen Segreti that day, and she became my Gynecological Oncologist. Dr. Segreti was with me when a temporary chest tube was put in to drain the fluid that had shut off my right lung. That was why I could not breathe.
Dr. Segreti met with my parents and me several times throughout the next couple of days. She walked us through what would happen when I had my complete hysterectomy done. The way she explained the plan gave me every confidence that I would beat this cancer with her by my side.
I had a more stable chest tube put in on May 3rd, which happened to be on Pittsburgh Marathon Sunday. Two evenings later, on May 5th, I had my complete hysterectomy done. A few days later, my parents and my sister and brother-in-law from North Carolina took me home. I had a panic attack shortly after getting home. A neighbor was burning garbage, and the smoke blew down to our house, and again I couldn’t catch my breath. I finally calmed down and relaxed. I spent most of my time in the living room since I could not lay flat on my bed. My sister slept in the living room with me all weekend. Every time I would move, she would check to see if I was alright. Trying to get comfortable after surgery on the abdomen area is very difficult.
The first follow-up appointment with Dr. Segreti confirmed that I had Endometriotic Ovarian Cancer stage IIIC. I was given the Faces of Hope bag with a blanket, a folder of information and DVD, a rubber bracelet, teal ribbon pin, teal nail polish, and Mary Kay’s Satin Hands hand crème. My mom and I read the pamphlet cover to cover. This tote was my first introduction to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition.
My care team and I decided to go for an extreme chemotherapy treatment. Dr. Segreti put two chemo ports in, one in my chest the other in my abdomen. The question then was did I have to travel to Pittsburgh to have my chemo treatment, or could I have it closer to home. Dr. Segreti did some research and found that I could have the treatment in New Castle, and there I met my Oncologist, Dr. Christy Hilton. I found out that she had trained with Dr. Segreti and agreed with the treatment plan. I had six rounds of chemo starting in June, and my last treatment was in October. I loved my chemo nurses. They are kind and treated me so well. I was there from around 8 am until 4 pm when they were ready to leave for the day, so I got to know them fairly well. A family friend came to check on me shortly before I went into chemo. As someone recovering from both breast and ovarian cancer, she bravely shared her experience with my mother and me. Additionally, she brought me a bag filled with wrapped gifts and told me to open one each day I went to treatment so that I had something to look forward to. My Mom and I made it a game. I would take the package with me and open it at the chemo center. The nurses really got a kick out of it. Each box had something different. Opening gifts of journals, stuffed animals, gift certificates, and many others truly brightened my day.
I was encouraged to have genetic testing done. I went in September of 2015, and the results were negative for the BRCA gene. What a relief for my family. Throughout the following few appointments, Dr. Segreti encouraged me to contact The Teal Hearts Network for support. Living in New Castle and traveling to Pittsburgh for the meetings felt a little overwhelming at the time. I got tired so quickly during treatment. She also wanted me to go to the NOCC 5K in 2015, but I declined because I was still in therapy and tired so easily. A couple of weeks after my last treatment, I had a scan and an MRI, and they were clear. This news allowed me to go back to work part-time. I worked my way back to full-time in a couple of months.
I decided to go to the NOCC 5K in 2016 with my sister and brother-in-law in tow. It was amazing. I did not know about the NOCC. I lost my aunt in 2004 to ovarian cancer. Both she and my family were unaware of her diagnosis until after she had passed. My sister and I put my aunt’s name along with a friend from chemo who lost her battle on the remembrance tree. I continue to do that every year. After my first experience with NOCC, I have joined the wonderful ladies at The Teal Hearts Network in Pittsburgh. It is great to spend time with others who have gone through what you have gone through. I miss it when I can’t be there. These days with Zoom meetings, we get to see each other and keep in touch.
Today I still have follow-up appointments, but they are few and far between—my CA125 hovers in the single digits. I have excellent family support with my parents, two sisters, one brother-in-law, one brother and sister-in-law, one aunt, cousin, three nephews, three nieces, and my goddaughter. My church family has been great, and my job was held while I was out having treatment. I still have issues with neuropathy, but on the whole, I’m thankful for every day.
Sue is 55 and a lifetime resident of New Castle, PA. She enjoys music, reading, and cheering on her favorite Pittsburgh sports teams. Sue is an active member of Pittsburgh’s Teal Hearts Network.