Ovarian cancer survivor shares Sparrow cancer story

Denise’s Story

Denise LeMire was a 45-year-old single mother of three when she received her late-stage ovarian cancer diagnosis in November 2012. Two years later, while the ovarian cancer was in remission, LeMire was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, a rare cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Just after she underwent surgery for the ovarian cancer, LeMire’s youngest daughter, Shelby, was found to have a malignant melanoma on her head.

“People can hardly believe it,” she said. “It’s such a horrific story. Shelby and I were undergoing chemotherapy at the same time.”

LeMire, a Registered Nurse, had worked for years in a hospital emergency department and pediatrics. She married her current husband, Steve, while she was undergoing ovarian cancer treatment. 

LeMire’s relationship with the Sparrow cancer team began with what she described as “very vague, random, not-serious symptoms.” One of her fellow Nurses prompted her to see her obstetrician, who ordered a CAT scan but couldn’t identify the cause of LeMire’s abdominal pain and eventually referred her to Sparrow’s cancer team.

She underwent surgery just one week after her appointment. LeMire recalls her Physician sitting at her bedside after the surgery and explaining that she had late-stage ovarian cancer. 

Ovarian cancer often goes undetected until it has spread within the pelvis and abdomen. Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer may include abdominal bloating or swelling, quickly feeling full when eating, weight loss. discomfort in the pelvis area, changes in bowel habits, such as constipation, and a frequent need to urinate.

Most of the cancer was removed during the surgery, but she would need chemotherapy treatments. She was thankful for Sparrow’s, honesty, and attention to detail.

“They are a compassionate, caring family of people who see you as a whole person – not just a cancer Patient.”

LeMire would receive 18 chemotherapy treatments for ovarian cancer.

LeMire discusses the special bond between Caregiver and Patient, and the compassion that creates those bonds at Sparrow. “My Nurse and I formed a very personal relationship. Because I was so scared, it was such a blessing to know that I was going to see her every time.” 

LeMire’s ovarian cancer was in remission for 18 months when a PET scan revealed the mesothelioma. Her father, who was exposed to asbestos in his work, died of the disease. She suspects there might be a connection. LeMire went through more surgery. Her spleen was removed, as well as some portions of other organs. She went through nine more months of chemotherapy and other treatment for mesothelioma at Sparrow. Both cancers are now in remission and LeMire considers herself a survivor. 

“The Sparrow staff saved my life twice,” she said. Meanwhile, Shelby, who underwent treatment in Ann Arbor and in Houston, Texas, is also a survivor.

LeMire’s advice to cancer Patients: “Never, ever give up … Hold onto hope, have faith and expect miracles because they can happen.”

The Herbert-Herman Cancer Center features a multi-disciplinary team approach that puts the Patient at the center of everything we do. Patients will see a team of clinicians under one roof and in one visit, rather than making separate appointments with specialists from different practices. Each Patient will receive an individualized treatment plan with input from numerous specialists. Each major cancer has its own clinic, such as breast, lung, and colorectal cancer.

Sparrow is transforming care through innovation such as the region’s only cancer genetics counselor and access to cutting-edge clinical trials. The Herbert-Herman Cancer Center is home to the largest clinical trials program in the region and the only one accepting Phase 1-3 clinical trials not accessible to Patients anywhere else locally.

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