I knew something was really wrong with me

March 31, 2014
"I had chest pain. I had stomach pain. I had shortness of breath. I knew something was really wrong with me." Still, Robin Ceppi, a busy, working mother of young children, says fear initially prevented her from seeking help. Robin had already fought and won a battle with breast cancer, but it took a serious toll on her family - husband Mike, daughter Allison and son Brian. "I was flipped out. I knew it was bad. I even told people, 'I'm really sick.'" The Diagnosis... Eventually, Robin shared her concerns with her primary care doctor, who immediately scheduled her for a chest X-ray. The X-ray showed a very big mass in the middle of Robin's chest. Robin remembers having a “horrible” feeling, even before she received the results. “I knew I had cancer, and I thought that was the end of my life,” Robin recalls. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, claiming the lives of more than 550,000 Americans each year. Following the X-ray, Robin's doctor scheduled her for a computed tomography (CT) scan to determine if the cancer had spread to other areas in her body. Following the CT scan, her oncologist suspected lymphoma and referred Robin to thoracic surgeon Raymond Schaerf, MD, who asked Robin to come to his office immediately. “From the moment that cancer is suspected, it is absolutely critical to act quickly,” emphasizes Dr. Schaerf. “The best chance for a cure is to find and surgically remove the cancer as early as possible. In the earliest stages, the cancer is less likely to have spread.” When a biopsy of Robin's tumor generated inconclusive results, Dr. Schaerf scheduled Robin for a thoracotomy, a procedure in which he carefully employed a minimally invasive surgical technique to view Robin's chest cavity. This enabled Dr. Schaerf to examine the size of the tumor and establish if the cancer had traveled to the lymph nodes. The Prognosis... In a complex operation, Dr. Schaerf removed a very large tumor from Robin's mediastinum - the space between the breastbone and lungs. Fortunately, almost all of Robin's cancer was removed. Robin needed four months of chemotherapy and two weeks of radiation therapy to destroy the remaining cancer cells. Robin remembers feeling better almost immediately at the end of the therapy. “Everything was handled expeditiously. Dr. Schaerf just exuded confidence, and that made me feel more confident,” Robin says. She's been cancer-free for nearly five years. “Robin's situation was more complicated because the cancer wasn't detected and treated in the early stages,” notes Dr. Schaerf. “However, at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, we're adept at effectively treating cancer patients in all stages of the disease. Our success rates are among the best in the United States.” “I've never seen the care you get from all of the physicians and staff at Providence Saint Joseph, and I'm very critical,” Robin admits. “From my doctors, to the ICU nurses, to the radiologists, to the techs - they were all so terrific. I just can't say enough.”