Ovarian cancer survivor credits USF Health gynecologic oncologist with saving her life

Hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy, or HIPEC, has shown prolonged survival in patients with advanced disease

When Lisa Boynton’s frisky golden retriever Roxie nudged her awake late one night, the last thing on her mind was a “Dog Hero” story, like the clips continuously looping on YouTube. After all, Boynton had experienced her own share of heroism five years earlier when she beat ovarian cancer, thanks to her surgeon Thomas Rutherford, MD, who at the time was based in Connecticut.

Ovarian cancer survivor Lisa Boynton with her golden retriever Roxie

Her son Finn had gone to play Division I golf at UConn and teenage daughter Caroline was busy with her studies and competing in three sports at her mom’s preparatory school alma mater Lauralton Hall.  Roxie, a 1-year-old golden retriever, had become her baby so she succumbed to the dog’s charms as usual and headed out into the brisk Connecticut evening for a midnight walk.

Midway through Roxie took off after something, a fox perhaps, and Boynton was caught off guard. She went flying and crash landed on her hip — feeling immediate pain.  An x-ray the next day revealed no breaks.

After enduring eight more weeks of pain, Boynton sought additional scans.  When one film showed something suspicious in her pelvis, her husband Dan grabbed his iPhone and hit Dr. Rutherford on speed dial.

Rutherford had since relocated to Tampa from Connecticut to lead the Gynecologic Oncology Division in MCOM’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.  He also directs the medical school’s gynecologic oncology fellowship program, as well as surgical quality at the Tampa General Hospital Cancer Center.

After reading Boynton’s scans, Dr. Rutherford called for further testing.  When the PET scan revealed a spot on Boynton’s pelvis, Dr. Rutherford told her “whatever it is, I need to get it out.”  He recommended immediate surgery to remove the mass along with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC), a highly concentrated, heated chemotherapy delivered directly to the abdomen following surgical removal of all visible tumors.

“He was just so incredibly thorough and explained all the safety measures he would be taking,” Boynton added. “He said ‘Don’t you worry about the surgery, I got this.’”

With Thanksgiving break looming, undergoing surgery over the family’s favorite holiday wasn’t going to be easy for Boynton, but Dr. Rutherford recommended moving forward immediately.  So, the Boynton’s packed their bags and flew to sunny Tampa.

“The whole experience was just so positive,” Boynton said. “Knowing that Dr. Rutherford would be doing the operation, I knew it was the right thing to do.”

From left: USF Health gynecologic oncologist Dr. Thomas Rutherford, Lisa Boynton and her husband Dan

Boynton’s surgery was performed without complications, but Dr. Rutherford did remove a malignant tumor in her pelvic region. He also performed HIPEC, administering chemotherapy to the pelvic area and abdomen to eradicate any lingering cells.  Dr. Rutherford suggested a post-surgery round of chemotherapy to “knock this thing out for good.”

The use of the HIPEC procedure would hopefully eradicate any residual microscopic tumor cells within her abdomen and prevent future recurrence.  Although many consider HIPEC experimental, recent publications have demonstrated prolonged survival in advanced ovarian cancer patients, particularly for those whose cancer has not spread outside the abdominal cavity.

“When caring for a patient, you want to offer them every opportunity to beat the disease,” Dr. Rutherford said.  “Lisa was an ideal candidate since the recurrent disease was localized and able to be completely resected.”

“My Connecticut friends were like, ‘I can’t believe you’re going to Tampa, but we trusted Dr. Rutherford with my life. I would fly anywhere to have him do my surgery.  He’s that incredible of a surgeon, of a person,” Boynton said.

Indeed, Dr. Rutherford’s sense of urgency saved Boynton’s life. He explained that the tumor was just 1/10th of a millimeter — the thickness of a typical sheet of paper — away from entering her bladder and involved her ureter.

The Boynton family, from left: Dan, son Finn, daughter Caroline, and Lisa

After surgery, the Boynton kids flew back north and her husband of 23 years stayed bedside in the ICU.  Her husband, her rock, who had been with her every step of the way during the last five years, was there when Dr. Rutherford came to check on her Thanksgiving Day. He asked if Dan had any dinner plans.  When Dan shook his head, Dr. Rutherford invited him to eat Thanksgiving at the Rutherford’s home. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, so Dan took him up on the generous offer.

“With Dr. Rutherford patients are getting someone who is the most talented and the most caring person. He not only takes care of his patients, but the whole family too,” Boynton added.

In addition to Dr. Rutherford, Boynton handed out plenty of praise for Tampa General Hospital.  “Every member of every area of the hospital, from checking in to leaving, was amazing. Every nurse, everyone on the staff was just phenomenal.  They really care about their patients.”

After a week-long stay at the hospital, the Boyntons flew home to Connecticut. Of course the lifesaving pooch Roxie was first to greet Lisa at the door. Boynton acknowledges had Roxie not pulled her down that night she might not be here today. Along with owing a debt of gratitude to her stellar surgeon, Boynton knows she owes her Golden an unlimited supply of tennis balls, biscuits and, yes, midnight walks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos courtesy of Lisa Boynton