As women, we’re often taught to shy away from discussions about our gynecological health, so when something is seriously wrong it can be difficult to talk about it.
Gynecologic cancers affect thousands of women each year, and dealing with these diseases is often an intensely private experience for women. While many clinics and oncology centers do an excellent job of providing care, it’s critical to provide women with a safe place where they feel comfortable seeking treatment.
That is why we created the Gynecologic Cancer Center in 2012. We treat various gynecological conditions and all forms of women’s cancer, including cervical, peritoneal, ovarian, uterine, and vulvar cancers. Our goal is to create a calming environment for patients who are going through one of the hardest times in their lives and treating the whole woman emotionally and physically so she feels supported throughout her cancer journey.
A Haven for Female Patients
Many patients tell us that the center doesn’t look like a typical hospital or doctor’s office. That is by design.
We created everything in the Gynecologic Cancer Center with female patients in mind — from the names of the chemotherapy rooms (Rose, Begonia and Hibiscus, for example) to the pictures and paint colors on the wall. The overall feel of the center is more like a spa, albeit one governed by hospital rules.
Not only is the center’s look and feel different, but also our approach. We try to do more than just manage patients from a traditional clinical standpoint; we also incorporate Eastern medicine into our philosophy. Many patients are very anxious before surgery, so we have an Eastern medicine physician on staff, who helps them with stress management. We offer acupuncture and acupressure to reduce patients’ need for medication and to help with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. We also provide these services to patients’ spouses to help reduce their stress levels. It’s been encouraging to see how well these techniques work. For example, one patient had high anxiety as she got closer to surgery, but our physician did acupuncture and several visual techniques to calm her fears. The result was that the patient felt more comfortable with the entire process, did not have as many post-operative concerns and had better recovery.
We have many discussions with patients about their intimate life. This is really important because when a woman is told she has a gynecologic cancer, she feels like her reproductive organs have betrayed her. It’s very hard to come to terms with this, especially because it affects a patient’s sexual life and their relationship with their spouse. It’s why we make it a point to talk about ways to make sex and intimacy more comfortable, given their diagnosis and treatment. We work as a team to support every patient and our 30-person staff also helps us deliver a very personal approach, with the goal that patients feel listened to, respected and part of their treatment process.
Treating the Whole Woman
We work with colleagues across disciplines to provide the best care and individualized treatment for each patient.
We do a lot of prophylactic surgery at the center, as well as treat patients with a long history of endometriosis, pre-invasive diseases of the lower genital tract and people with genetic abnormalities such as BRCA or Lynch syndrome.
All four of the physicians at the center are trained in laparoscopic procedures, vaginal procedures and robotic surgery, which allows us to add a different dimension to patient care and decrease a patient’s hospital stay to between six to eight hours, on average. This is very impactful for treating certain cancers. Treatment for uterine cancer, for example, has included a large surgical incision on the abdomen, but now 80 percent of patients with this cancer will be treated with a minimally invasive approach and often can go home the same day or the day after surgery. They can also return to their normal life much more quickly. Another procedure we perform is the trachelectomy (removal of just the cervix, not the uterus) to treat cervical cancer, which allows us to give women who still want children the opportunity to do so in the future.
Women with gynecologic cancers diagnosed during pregnancy also receive treatment at the center. We focus on treating both mother and child, even as a female patient undergoes chemotherapy. We work with a multi-specialty team of obstetrical experts to achieve the best outcomes. Our goal is to make sure the patient has successful treatment and delivers a healthy baby. Many of our patients have achieved this and have gone on to have subsequent healthy pregnancies.
While our center has a unique approach, being part of a larger cancer center also helps us give patients the best care. We typically have access to two or three clinical trials for different types of cancer, which gives patients more options and access to drugs they wouldn’t otherwise get. As a community cancer center, we’re fortunate to offer this option to patients.
Women wear a lot of hats — they’re mothers, grandmothers, sisters, providers and caretakers. But when a woman is diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer, the role she must focus on is that of survivor. At the Gynecologic Cancer Center, our ultimate goal is to help women not only survive cancer, but thrive after it. Giving them hope, encouragement and a supportive environment throughout therapy is a critical part of their treatment process. Our center has been successful in helping patients over the last four years because every person who works here is committed to the idea that any woman who walks through our doors could be their own mother, sister or best friend.
An estimated 98,000 women were diagnosed with gynecologic cancers last year, according to the Foundation for Women’s Cancer. I hope our center will continue to be a small part of reducing those numbers and increasing survivorship. I would love to walk down the halls of our office one day and see less cancer. Until then, we’ll continue to help women in their fight.
By Veronica L. Schimp, DO
Invasive Surgical Quality Committee at Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. She is board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology as well as gynecologic oncology. Dr. Schimp earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry from Lake Superior State University in Michigan and a doctorate in osteopathy from Michigan State University. She went on to complete residencies in general surgery at St. John/Oakland General Hospital and in obstetrics and gynecology at Hutzel Hospital/Wayne State University, both in Michigan, as well as a fellowship in gynecologic oncology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Dr. Schimp may be contacted at 321.841.8393.