Compassion Corner: Patient Survives Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer and Credits Her Compassionate Oncologist

Compassion [kuhmpash-uhn] noun
A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

Compassion Corner is a series from Patient Worthy that will focus on the subject of compassion in the healthcare and rare disease space. In this series, we explore the role of compassion in this field and what it means for caregivers, patients, and others.



If we were to search for Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory, we would run across his “sympathy hypothesis.” Darwin observed that it took compassion to turn the human race into the civilization as we know it today.

Observing suffering triggers the part of our brain associated with nurturing. Compassion and empathy are the basic elements that have helped humans survive. When we perform simple acts of kindness it releases “pleasure chemicals.”

A Startling Diagnosis and Aggressive Treatment

An article recently published in the University of Kansas Cancer Center News describes Debbie Michalski’s diagnosis of stage 4 ovarian cancer. At the time her youngest grandchild was only one year old. If you were to ask Debbie if she would be around for her grandchild’s high school graduation, Debbie feigned optimism but truly did not believe she would see that day.

Debbie vividly recalls going into her oncologist’s office preparing to hear her doctor’s final diagnosis. When she witnessed the compassion her doctor showed upon announcing that her cancer had advanced to stage 4, she knew in her heart that “this doctor was going to cure me.”

In fact, her experience went to an even higher level. Dr. Chapman, Debbie’s gynecologic oncologist, asked how many years she and her husband Don had been married. When Don said that today was a special day was for them as it was their tenth wedding anniversary, the attending staff cried.

No Stone Unturned

One week later, Debbie had a surgical procedure to remove her ovaries, uterus, spleen, part of her colon, appendix, and a portion of her diaphragm. The operation was followed by chemotherapy. Debbie also entered a clinical trial.

Debbie also read about integrated medicine and followed its guidelines, such as an organic diet and intravenous vitamin C. She considered every option and continued to be proactive. In fact, that was the quality she admired most in her oncologist. Debbie appreciated her doctor going one step further and consulting with her colleagues to determine the most effective treatment.

Debbie was in remission and her condition looked promising until she relapsed in 2005. For a moment, her first thought was to get an immediate second opinion. But she spoke with her husband and they both agreed that she was receiving optimum care at the Kansas Center. The Center is one out of only seventy-one centers in the U.S. recognized by the National Cancer Institute.

Although Debbie had to undergo additional surgery and six more rounds of chemotherapy, she was once again in remission and has remained so for the past fifteen years. Debbie received her first diagnosis on their tenth wedding anniversary. This year, Debbie and Don celebrate their twenty-fifth.

Why Compassion and Empathy Matter

Dr. Chapman said that patients with a positive outlook about their cancer have a better quality of life. She points to Debbie as an excellent example. Debbie returns the compliment by attributing her recovery to Dr. Chapman’s compassion.

Dr. Chapman recalls that when she began her practice she was advised not to get too close to her patients. However, she ignored that advice because she believes caring leads to better results. In treating her patients, she thinks about how she would like to be treated.

She thinks about the questions she would ask and the information she would expect to receive. Dr. Chapman tries to connect with her patients in ways in which they are most comfortable.

Never Ever Give Up

Debbie has relied heavily on her husband’s optimism and the excellent care her oncologist provides. She was 47 at the time of diagnosis.

After her diagnosis, Debbie showed the dismal survival statistics for stage 4 ovarian cancer to her husband. He told her that she was looking at it all wrong. He said that she must look at people who survived and think of herself as a survivor.

Debbie is an inspiration to other patients at Kansas University’s Cancer Center. Her doctor calls her a cheerleader at the support groups.


Rose Duesterwald

Rose Duesterwald

Rose became acquainted with Patient Worthy after her husband was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) six years ago. During this period of partial remission, Rose researched investigational drugs to be prepared in the event of a relapse. Her husband died February 12, 2021 with a rare and unexplained occurrence of liver cancer possibly unrelated to AML.

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