Dr. Jeanine Andersson’s Story | Hope of All Hopes
In January 2017, Dr. Jeanine Andersson, a Little Rock-based hand surgeon, went in for a small gynecological procedure. As a physician herself, Jeanine admits that she almost skipped her post-op appointment saying, “I was doing fine and I didn’t want to waste the doctor’s time.” But she said the voice in the back of her head told her she needed to go, so she listened and she went.
Her doctor did some routine tests and sent her on her way. The following Monday, her doctor called her at 5:30 p.m. and said, “Where are you? Are you driving?”, and Jeanine knew that was a bad sign. Her doctor broke the news that she had cervical cancer and asked her to come in the following day to discuss her diagnosis further and do additional biopsies.
The suggested course of treatment was a radical robotic hysterectomy. For this procedure, Jeanine chose to go to MD Anderson in Houston. She had the surgery in April 2017 and was told that she was considered “surgically cured”. While that was great news, she said her doctor – and others they had consulted at tumor board – agreed that while the average recurrence rate was typically around 30%, Jeanine’s likelihood of recurrence was even lower at 4%, the kicker being that if it were to come back it would likely be incurable.
She said that the word “incurable” always stuck in the back of her head and she never felt cured. She went into surveillance mode and returned to MD Anderson every three months for exams and additional screenings.
In the fall of 2017, she started to have abnormal symptoms, symptoms that her nurse practitioner in Houston attributed to her adjustment to her “new normal” after the hysterectomy. But Jeanine continued to listen to her body and the abnormal symptoms she was experiencing, including rapid weight gain and nighttime pelvic pain, which she knew was a bad sign.
After pushing her doctors for a CT scan, which came back clear, MD Anderson recommended that Jeanine see a psychiatrist because they felt that her constant worries might be a mental result of her diagnosis.
But the symptoms continued, and in July 2018, while on vacation, Jeanine felt excruciating pain while go karting with her family, which includes four children and her husband Thomas, who is also battling his own cancer diagnosis. A few days later, she had an MRI that confirmed an 8.5 centimeter tumor. With the previous sentiment that a recurrence would likely mean incurable cancer, Jeanine admits she felt “numbered.” But with “hopes of all hopes,” Jeanine returned to her surgeon at MD Anderson, who said that, unfortunately, there was nothing curative that they could do for her. They recommended palliative care, and told her she likely had around 18 months to live, which realistically started a while back and not once her tumor was discovered.
As a mother with a husband also being treated for cancer, Jeanine said the news weighed heavily on her. She started writing letters to her children for the moments she wouldn’t be present for – middle school, high school – and even made arrangements with a funeral home.
She chose to continue with treatment, starting back with radiation and chemotherapy in Houston in the fall of 2018. While her medical team got on board, they always used terminology like “extend your life” and talked in numbers of months, not years of life left. She knew that ultimately they weren’t looking for a cure, but instead trying to keep her comfortable in her final days.
That’s when CARTI came into her life. Medical oncologist Dr. Diane Wilder reached out to Jeanine, a physician who she’d referred patients to in the past, and said she’d heard her story and asked if she could pray for her. Their relationship grew from there and Jeanine ended up switching her care to CARTI and started seeing Dr. Wilder. As her oncologist, Dr. Wilder connected her with Dr. Joseph Ivy, founder of Ivy Women’s Cancer Clinic, a specialty clinic that operates out of the CARTI Cancer Center in Little Rock. While Dr. Ivy saw hope and knew of a procedure that could be done, he felt that it was larger than himself, and recommended that Jeanine go to a surgical center in Oklahoma. Five days later she made the trip and the surgery was set for January 2019.
Once in surgery, her medical team found nothing – the entire 8.5 centimeter, grapefruit-sized tumor had disappeared. While everyone was amazed and appropriately elated, they knew that it was important to continue with the previously decided course of treatment in order to ensure that the tumor did not return. Jeanine returned to Little Rock and decided to undergo another three rounds of chemotherapy, which she completed in June 2019.
Today, Jeanine says “there is no medical reason I should be cancer free. I had malignant ascites, an 8.5 centimeter tumor, and universally across all my physicians said ‘I don’t think we can heal you.’ And here I am.”