Cancer patient learns chemotherapy “does not have to be what you fear”

Too Young for Cancer

Kristin Fletcher

In 2015, 35-year-old Amanda Schwalb started feeling bad and was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery to remove a cyst. What she did not know was the emergency surgery would later reveal she had ovarian cancer.

Six weeks after the surgery, Amanda received news she had cancer in one of her ovaries, which was successfully removed. “I was recommended to make an appointment with Dr. Joan Cheng, a Gynecologic Oncologist, following my surgery,” Schwalb said.

Amanda met with Dr. Cheng, who ordered a CT scan. Thankfully, all of her margins came back clear. Her cancer was in remission.

Amanda received follow up care from Dr. Cheng periodically throughout the year and began seeing Dr. Cheng every three months. Eventually, her visits became more sporadic, with a visit every six months.

Dealing with Recurrence

In August 2017, Amanda had a feeling her ovarian cancer had returned.

“I was very keen on the symptoms I had back in 2015,” Amanda said.

Sure enough, her hormone levels had spiked. Dr. Cheng scheduled a CT scan and surgery to determine if her cancer had returned. The cyst from her cancerous ovary in 2015 had ruptured, which caused the cancer to spread to another ovary.

It was at this point that Amanda was diagnosed with adult granulosa cell tumor, stage two ovarian cancer. Dr. Cheng scheduled a full hysterectomy, and Amanda spent seven hours in surgery.

Dr. Cheng was diligent in wanting to find every piece of cancer and remove it,” Amanda said. “She didn’t want to give up.”

“I was told the surgery was only supposed to last a few hours, but Dr. Cheng was diligent in wanting to find every piece of cancer and remove it,” Amanda said. “She didn’t want to give up.”

Amanda spent eight days in the hospital recovering, and Dr. Cheng scheduled six chemotherapy sessions following surgery.

Knowing she would undergo chemotherapy, Amanda started researching ways to prevent hair loss.

“I am a planner. I did not want to lose my hair, and it was hard to wrap my head around it,” Amanda said. “In my research, I found out about the Paxman Cooling Cap, and I decided to ask Dr. Cheng about it at my follow-up appointment.”

To her surprise, Amanda learned Touro Infirmary was already in the process of acquiring the cooling cap system.

“I am a strong believer that everything happens for a reason,” Amanda said.

“A week before Thanksgiving, I got a call from Dr. Cheng’s office that the Paxman Cooling Cap arrived to Touro right before my first chemo session. Paxman overnighted my cap, and I started chemotherapy on November 29.”

The Paxman Scalp Cooling System allows more control, precision, and coverage than traditional scalp cooling treatments like ice packs and cold caps. It works by reducing the temperature of the scalp by a few degrees immediately before, during and after administration of chemotherapy. This in turn reduces the blood flow to hair follicles, which may prevent or minimize hair loss.

“The cap is working for me,” Amanda said. “A nurse told me that [Touro] never had a patient on your medication come in with hair on day 21.”

To others, her hair looks normal.

“They would have never guessed that I had five chemo treatments,” she said.

Hopeful Outlook

Amanda is close to completing her last chemotherapy session, and she is grateful for the care she received from Dr. Cheng.

“She is great! She is very direct in discussing your cancer at a good comfort level,” Amanda said. “She has my best interest at heart, and she’s the absolute best at what she does.”

Not only is Amanda grateful for the nurses, doctors, and surgeons who cared for her, she said this experience has also changed her perspective on the medical field and their professionals.

“I met nurses who started working in the medical field after having cancer. I completely understand why. This experience makes me want to go in the medical field,” she said. “All I want to do is spend my time thanking them. I want to tell other people these experiences do not have to be what you fear.”

Research Cures Cancer

Mary Ellen Burns, RN, BSN, OCN

I am old. I am so old that I remember when cancer was a death sentence. When I began my nursing career nearly 30 years ago, we administered chemotherapy, which caused people to suffer with terrible side effects and die. Now I meet former patients who were diagnosed with advanced cancer more than 10 years ago. They are enjoying their lives.

How did this happen? Research.

Over the course of my nursing career, cancer treatment has become more effective and less brutal because of research. The scientists have developed many new drugs to treat cancer ,and new drugs to manage side effects like nausea and vomiting. But the scientists can’t cure cancer alone. They need doctors and nurses who know how to care for cancer patients, and they need cancer patients to enroll in clinical trials.

The doctors at Touro Infirmary have a long history of participating in research that helps people. In 1923, Touro was one of 15 hospitals approved to administer insulin to treat diabetes. Today, the cancer doctors and the staff at Touro’s Cancer Center feel that being able to offer clinical trials is important to their patients and to science.

So who wants to become a guinea pig for scientists? Isn’t having cancer bad enough?

Most people who are diagnosed with cancer do not even qualify for a clinical trial. Standard treatments with favorable outcomes already exist for many cancers. No cancer doctor would consider allowing their patient to participate in a trial with unknown outcomes when a better option exists. But if a patient has a cancer that doesn’t have a favorable treatment, they may wish to participate in a clinical trial. Some people choose to enroll in trials because they see it as their only chance for a cure. Others choose to enroll in a trial because they hope that their participation will provide better treatment in the future.

Patients who enroll in trials are not guinea pigs. They are essential participants in making the world a better place. Their participation in this process is awesome because they are choosing to do this when they are sick. Doctors and nurses who care for cancer patients understand this as well. Clinical trial patients are extra special. Before caring for trial patients, doctors and nurses must take special training to make sure their patients are safe and protected.

One of my favorite things about being a clinical trial nurse is the extra care that I can give to my trial patients. Caring for trial patients involves extra responsibilities that ensure patients have the best possible experience even though their cancer is bad. I believe that my care makes a positive difference in their lives. And I hope that by caring for people enrolled in clinical trials, I can cure cancer.

Mary Ellen Burns is a research nurse in Oncology at Touro Infirmary. A research nursing is a nursing professional that works hard to help create, evaluate, and perfect new and old medications and treatments for various medical problems. As a research nurse, Mary Ellen Burns is at the forefront of new medical discoveries, and helps to develop breakthrough cures and medical treatments.

What to Do, Eat and Think to Help Prevent Cancer

Liz Cabrera, RD, CSO, LDN, CNSC

Not smoking. Staying active. Keeping a healthy weight. Eating a well-balanced diet. All these things can prevent certain cancers and make a cancer survivor feel better.

Be physically active

Most doctors encourage their patients to exercise throughout their course of cancer treatment, including while in chemotherapy or radiation therapy, unless they are at risk for complications. The American Cancer Society recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week (or a combination of these), preferably spread throughout the week.

  • Aerobic exercise will help you to maintain and build your endurance. Brisk walking, riding a bike and swimming are good low impact options.
  • Strength training is also important. It helps to protect your bone health and muscle mass.
  • Flexibility exercises involve gently stretching your muscles to maintain your range of motion. It improves your circulation and increases blood flow to your muscles.
  • Limit sedentary behavior such as sitting, lying down or watching TV.

The American Cancer Society also recommends using a pedometer. Even if you are not currently exercising at all, try wearing a pedometer and track how many steps you take each day. This will help you to stay as active as possible even without a formal exercise program. The goal for active, healthy adults is 10,000 steps a day.

Eat a healthy diet

Research continues to be done on how diet may affect the development of cancer. It has been shown that eating fruits, vegetables, and cereal grains may lower your risk on certain types of cancers.

The American Cancer Society recommends:

  • Limit processed meat and red meat, such as beef, hot dogs and bacon.
  • Eat at least 2 ½ cups of vegetables and fruits each day.
  • Choose whole grains instead of refined grain products.

Moreover, if you drink alcohol, limit your intake. Women should drink no more than 1 drink a day and men no more than 2 drinks.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is deliberately paying attention in the present moment, being fully aware of what is happening both inside yourself—in your body, heart, and mind—and outside yourself, in your environment. By developing greater awareness in the present moment through mindfulness, you can experience lower anxiety, depression, anger and worry. It can also enhance emotional well-being and quality of life.

Meditation is a great way to practice mindfulness. Here are few tips to keep in mind when you meditate:

  • Find a quiet place with few distractions. Sit in a chair or on the floor.
  • Become aware of your breathing and focus on the sensation of air moving in and out of your body as you breathe. Feel your belly rise and fall and the air enter your nostrils and leave your mouth.
  • Watch every thought come and go. When thoughts come up, don’t hold them back. Simply note them and return to your breathing.
  • As the time comes to an end, sit for 1 or 2 minutes, becoming aware of where you are. Get up slowly.

Liz Cabrera, RD, CSO, LDN, CNSC, is the Lead Clinical Dietician for Touro Infirmary with over 25 years experience. Liz has advanced education and extensive experience in nutrition for a broad range of health conditions for which she provides nutrition support. Liz provides comprehensive nutrition care for inpatient and outpatient departments at Touro. In addition, Liz leads monthly healthy lifestyles community seminars and a nutrition after cancer cooking class.

5 Ways to Reduce Your Risk for Colon Cancer

George Zacharia, MD
Hematologist and Oncologist

Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States when men and women are considered separately, and the second leading cause when both sexes are combined. Health experts aren’t sure exactly what causes colorectal cancer but many factors may play a part. There are ways you can minimize your risk factors of developing colorectal cancer. Here are five tips:

Increase your physical activity.


The American Cancer Society recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week, spread throughout the week. Moderate activities should cause you to breathe hard, such as a brisk walk, biking, housework or gardening. Vigorous activities should increase your heart rate and make you breathe harder, such as running, lifting weights or spinning.

Monitor your weight.

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing colon cancer and other chronic diseases. You can determine if your body is at a healthy weight by tracking your Body Mass Index (BMI). Men should have a BMI lower than 20, and women should have a BMI lower than 25. BMI measures the amount of fat in your body. It takes in consideration your bone, muscle and fat in your body composition for your measurement.

Eat a healthy, balanced diet.

Here are a few guidelines to build a healthy, balanced meal daily:

  • Consume fruits and vegetables at every meal.
  • Drink 100% juice only
  • Limit the amount of processed and red meat you consumed, such as bacon, lamb, beef, lunch meat, hot dog and sausage.
  • Eat plenty of fish, poultry and beans instead.
  • Try baking, baking or poaching your meat instead of frying.
  • Choose whole grains instead of refined grain products, such as whole-grain breads, pasta, and cereals (such as barley and oats).
  • Limit your intake of refined carbohydrate foods, such as candy.

Avoid smoking and excess alcohol

Several studies have found a higher risk of colorectal cancer with high alcohol consumption, especially among men. Heavy alcohol consumption can cause inflammation, high blood pressure, liver failure and damage to other organs. The American Cancer Society recommends that people who drink alcohol limit their intake to no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink a day for women. Moreover, long-term is smoking is linked to an increase risk of developing colon cancer and other diseases. It is recommended to quit smoking in order to lower your risks.

Routine screening

Colon cancer can be treated and cured if it’s diagnosed early, and a colonoscopy is one of the best ways to detect the disease. Colonoscopy is an invasive test used to find colon cancer. The procedure is done using a long, flexible tube (colonoscope) with a light and tiny camera attached to the end. It is put in your rectum and moved into your colon. During a colonoscopy, your provider may remove tissue or abnormal growths (polyps) for further examination. A colonoscopy allows your provider to find any early signs of cancer, red or swollen (inflamed) tissue, or open sores (ulcers).

Even healthy adults with no family or medical history of colon cancer should get routine colonoscopies. The cancer can develop without symptoms and once symptoms begin, it could mean the cancer is more advanced and less likely to be cured. Older adults should begin routine colonoscopy at the age 50. However, if the individual has a family history of colon cancer, they may need to be screened at an earlier age and more frequently.

If you still have questions or concerns, it is important that you talk to your healthcare provider.

Prime Years Seminar Present Colon Cancer: What You Need to Know

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States.

Join Touro’s Oncologist and Hematologist George Zacharia, M.D. to learn the importance of regular screenings and the different treatment options. Also, learn the warning signs, symptoms, risk factors and prevention tips.

Monday, September 11
12 to 1pm
Presidents Room, 2nd Floor
1401 Foucher St, New Orleans, LA 70115

This event is FREE, but registration is required.

> CLICK HERE to register or call (504) 897-8500.

Dr. George Zacharia is hematologist and oncologist for Crescent City Physicians. He completed his doctorate at Louisiana State University School of Medicine in Shreveport. He also completed his residency at Ochsner Clinic Foundation, and his fellowship at Lenox Hill Hospital.

Hidden Scar Breast Cancer Surgery at Touro

John Colfry, MD

Hidden scar™ breast cancer surgery, an advanced treatment expanding options for women undergoing breast surgery, is now available at Touro. John Colfry, MD, a Breast Surgical Oncologist with Touro’s Crescent City Physicians is one of the first surgeons in the New Orleans area to be a certified Hidden Scar surgeon.

Less Physical Reminder

Each year, approximately 405,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer that requires surgery. Many women are unaware of all the surgical options available, including minimally invasive approaches that can help restore their self-image and allow them to begin healing emotionally. Hidden Scar Breast Cancer Surgery is an advanced approach to breast cancer surgery that hides incision scars, minimizing the daily emotional reminder of a breast cancer diagnosis.

“Whether a patient is having a lumpectomy or a nipple-sparing mastectomy, Hidden Scar surgery allows for optimal cosmetic results,” says Dr. Colfry. “With this more sophisticated approach to breast cancer surgery, a woman can have more self-confidence after having battled breast cancer.”

Single Incision, Less Scarring

Hidden Scar Breast Cancer Surgery allows Dr. Colfry to remove the cancerous tissue through a single incision made in an inconspicuous area, preserving the natural shape of the breast while reducing visible scarring.

“My diagnosis of breast cancer resulted in my choice of bilateral mastectomy,” explains patient Carol V. Sharp. “The excellent cosmetic result and minimal scar accomplished by my skilled surgeon, Dr. Colfry, exceeded even my own expectations.”

Patients who undergo this approach are at no higher risk for recurrence than patients who undergo any other type of technique. Hidden Scar Breast Cancer Surgery may be appropriate for a wide range of breast cancer patients undergoing nipple-sparing mastectomy or breast-conserving (lumpectomy) procedures.

Comprehensive Cancer Care

To learn more about Hidden Scar Breast Cancer Surgery and the other services we offer patients with cancer, visit us online at

Dr. John Colfry specializes in treating breast cancer with the most advanced surgical options available. Dr. Colfry is a MD Anderson fellowship-trained breast surgical oncologist who is an expert in this field. He works closely with plastic and reconstructive surgeons to give patients the best cosmetic results and options. Our breast surgical oncologist is also experienced with oncoplastic surgery, an approach to breast cancer surgery that combines plastic surgery techniques with lumpectomy and spares many women from mastectomy.

Colon Cancer: What You Need to Know?

Salvador Caputto, M.D.

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death, and the third most common type of cancer in the United States. This year, over 134,000 cases of colon cancer will be diagnosed in the United States, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

What is colon cancer?

Colon cancer is a malignant tumor of the large intestine (colon and rectum), the most distal or lower part of your digestive system. It most often starts when cells in a polyp begin growing aggressively, invading progressively into the deeper layers of the colon or rectum and beyond. Malignant cells can subsequently potentially travel through the lymphatic system to the regional lymph nodes and through the bloodstream to distant organs, such as liver, lungs, bones and others.

What causes colon cancer?

Health experts aren’t sure exactly what causes colorectal cancer but many factors may play a part. Here is a list of the risk factors that may increase your risk of developing colon cancer:

  • A personal history of certain types of polyps.
  • Older age. Colon cancer is most commonly diagnosed in adults 50 and older.
  • People who are obese have an increased risk of developing colon cancer and an increased risk of dying of colon cancer when compared with people considered normal weight.
  • African-American race. African-Americans have a higher risk of colon cancer than do people of other races.
  • Inflammatory intestinal conditions. Chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, can increase your risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Inherited syndromes. Genetic syndromes passed through generations of your family can increase your risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Family history of colon cancer. You’re more likely to develop colon cancer if you have a parent, sibling or child with the disease.
  • Low-fiber, high-fat diet. Colon cancer and rectal cancer may be associated with a diet low in fiber and high in saturated fat and calories.
  • A sedentary lifestyle. If you’re inactive, you are more likely to develop colon cancer.
  • People with diabetes and insulin resistance have an increased risk of developing colon cancer.
  • People who smoke may have an increased risk.
  • Heavy use of alcohol.

What are the symptoms?

People with colorectal cancer often do not have symptoms right away. Although experiencing symptoms, it does not necessarily mean advanced cancer, detecting and treating colon or rectum cancer earlier, before symptoms appear, gives the patient a very significant advantage and chance of achieving a cure from the disease. If any of these symptoms appear, please contact your healthcare provider:

  • A change in bowel habits that lasts for more than a few days, including diarrhea, constipation, or a sensation that your bowel is still not empty after a bowel movement.
  • Bright red or very dark blood in your stool
  • Constant tiredness
  • Pica (unusual food cravings), such as for ice
  • Stools that are thinner than usual
  • Stools that appear slimy or that have a mucous film on them
  • Persistent gas pains, bloating, fullness, or cramps
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Vomiting

Regular screenings are vital to preventing colorectal cancer. They can help find the cancer early, when it’s easier to treat. Experts recommend everyone age 50 or older be screened for the disease. If you are at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer, you may need to begin colorectal cancer screening before age 50.

To find a physician, visit or call (504) 897-7777.

Dr. Salvador Caputto is a Hematologist and Medical Oncologist with Crescent City Physicians, Inc., a subsidiary of Touro Infirmary. He is Board Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Hematology. Dr. Caputto has been a member of the Touro medical staff for over 30 years and served on both the Touro Governing and Foundation Boards and is a member of the Judah Touro Society. He has also served as Chief of Hematology and Oncology and as Medical Director of the Touro Infirmary Cancer Treatment Unit. Dr. Caputto treats patients at his clinic on Touro Infirmary’s Campus, 1401 Foucher Street.