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Mom's research pays off with surgeon who caught second cancer

Maureen Latorre, a uterine cancer survivor, reads to her two children, Philip (6) and Anna (21 months).

Five years ago, a major surgery led to a discovery that perhaps saved Maureen Latorre’s life. Her journey started when she learned she had uterine cancer and needed a total hysterectomy. Equipped with her experience as an intensive care nurse, she immediately began searching for the best surgeon available.

“I found out that Dr. Potkul is one of the top doctors in the area,” Maureen remembered. “I spoke to his nurse, Kathleen, and made an appointment for the very next day.”

Loyola’s cancer surgeons see new patients without delay. “If it were me or my family, I’d want everything done yesterday,” said Ronald Potkul, MD, Mary Isabelle Caestecker Professor, and chair, obstetrics & gynecology, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, and division director, gynecological oncology, Loyola University Health System. “By treating patients quickly, we can minimize the anxiety of the unknowns, including if a cancer has spread.”

Maureen and her husband, Nick, came to the appointment with her slides, her gynecologist’s documentation and a long list of questions. “Dr. Potkul answered them in a straightforward manner, which we appreciated. I knew he was very experienced, but I also felt his compassion and saw the kindness in his eyes. I had the utmost confidence in him.”

Maureen’s faith was rewarded when, during the successful hysterectomy, Dr. Potkul noticed a small but very aggressive tumor growing on an ovary. Had it gone undetected for even a few more months, the cancer would have spread throughout her body and threatened Maureen’s life.

“Many physicians might only see one case like this in a lifetime. We deal with it all the time, so this early-stage tumor was fairly obvious to us,” said Dr. Potkul.

“Women should talk to their doctors when they get full quickly; experience bloating, abnormal bleeding or pressure when voiding; or simply just don’t feel right,” Dr. Potkul advised. “These are important symptoms that should not be ignored.”

Dr. Potkul and his gynecologic oncology colleagues at Loyola care for women with every type of gynecologic cancer. They stay with their patients throughout the journey, from surgery to chemotherapy to follow-up visits for the months or years that follow.

“I was devastated that he found another cancer and that I’d have to undergo chemotherapy,” Maureen said. “I was more fearful that I’d be too sick to care for Philip, my son who was only 17 months old, than about what I’d have to go through. Dr. Potkul reassured me that most of his patients tolerate the chemo pretty well.”

Maureen said she had some rough days during her 18-week regimen of chemotherapy, but she got through it with help from many people.
“Everyone at Loyola – the doctors and nurses, the chaplain and social worker, the people at the Image Renewal Center – were all so kind and attentive,” Maureen said. “I remember a nurse sharing her cancer survival story during my chemo sessions. My husband and entire family were unbelievably supportive, as were my neighbors and friends. And Philip was great medicine. We would dance or play in the park.”

Today that dancing toddler is six years old, and thanks to his mom’s good health as a disease-free cancer survivor, Philip has a 22-month-old sister, Anna. “Being a mom is my greatest joy,” Maureen said. “I feel extremely grateful that I could adopt again after my cancer journey.”

For more information, call Loyola’s Cancer Information Service at (708) CAN-HELP (708-226-4357).

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Jim Ritter
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Anne Dillon
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