A Living Miracle: Recovery Inspires Support
Liz Sherman said she feels like a living miracle after beating endometrial cancer.
Liz Sherman had big plans for her sabbatical, which was to be a well-deserved reward for many years of teaching Spanish. She intended to travel and to indulge in two of her other passions, opera and art.
But Liz's life took a dramatic turn when her gynecologist found a cyst in her uterus during a routine ultrasound. At her doctor's recommendation, she put her trust in the gynecologic oncology team at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center—starting with gynecologic oncologist Dr. Elizabeth Jewell, who diagnosed Liz with a rare and aggressive form of endometrial (uterine) cancer.
"Suddenly my job was all about getting better," Liz recalls of that pivotal moment in 2011. "After that, I would turn my focus to rebuilding my life."
Taking Charge of Her Treatment
A hysterectomy was necessary, but with Dr. Jewell about to begin maternity leave, fellow surgeon Dr. Mario M. Leitao Jr. took over Liz's care. As Director of MSK's Minimal Access and Robotic Surgery Program, Dr. Leitao determined that Liz would be an ideal candidate for robotic surgery, which requires smaller incisions and generally results in a quicker recovery.
"To perform a robot-assisted hysterectomy, I sit at the machine, immediately next to my patient, and I operate using finger and foot controls on the console that mimic my movements as I remove the tumor," Dr. Leitao explains. "I see everything through a highly magnified 3-D system, enabling me to visualize the surgery even more clearly than if I was operating without the robot."
Based upon her particular type of uterine cancer and the possibility that it might spread, Dr. Leitao and Liz's medical oncologist, Katherine Bell-McGuinn, recommended a regimen of chemotherapy to eliminate any remaining cancer cells in her body and prevent metastasis. "We all agreed about the course of treatment, and I felt like we were working as a team," Liz says.
The Next Chapter
After the chemotherapy, Liz's doctors declared her cancer-free. Due to the successful robotics procedure performed by Dr. Leitao, she could now finally tackle a challenge unrelated to cancer but very important to her quality of life: surgery to repair a cervical myelopathy, a painful orthopedic condition in the neck and/or spine. Liz was treated successfully at an area hospital.
It was worth going through all of this to regain my life. I'm doing everything I want to do, and I couldn't ask for anything more.— Liz Sherman
Feeling like "a living miracle," Liz says it did not take long to hatch a plan for the next chapter of her life. She began a substitute-teaching job at the school from which she retired. The following year she began teaching at a local college and also enrolled in a doctoral program in executive leadership. And last summer, she fulfilled a lifelong dream of going to Vienna, where the composer Mozart had his most thrilling and productive years, and attended an opera at the Vienna State Opera. Soon, she plans to begin volunteering at MSK.
As a way to express her gratitude for her restored health, Liz is making an estate gift to MSK's endometrial cancer research program. In addition, she's established an online giving page to encourage family and friends to contribute to MSK in lieu of material gifts.
Today, at 73 and feeling full of verve, Liz says, "It was worth going through all of this to regain my life. I'm doing everything I want to do, and I couldn't ask for anything more."
Memorial Sloan Kettering gratefully acknowledges her visionary commitment to MSK's future and recognizes her as a member of the Cullum Society.