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I Was Treated for Ovarian Cancer at the Center that Bears My Name

Susan Imbert shares her story.

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

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Susan Imbert is an active community leader, philanthropist and noted supporter of Northwell Health. Named in honor of Susan and her husband, Rick, the Imbert Cancer Center in Bay Shore, Long Island, is a 46,000-square-foot facility that offers high-quality cancer care, including medical oncology, radiation therapy, interventional radiology, surgical oncology, diagnostic imaging, clinical trials and support services.

I’ve always believed in the joy of philanthropy. When my husband, Rick, and I married, our invitation read, “Let joy be your compass in life.” We try to live by that philosophy every day. But focusing on joy doesn’t mean being successful or having a lot of things—it means leaving a legacy of generosity that changes lives whatever way you can.

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

That’s why, when Northwell Health was planning to build a premier cancer center on the South Shore of Long Island, we saw the opportunity to help. In October 2016, we celebrated the opening of the beautiful, state-of-the-art Northwell Health Imbert Cancer Center. Rick and I were incredibly honored to have our name on that building. I can’t even describe the joy and gratitude I felt in my heart at that moment.

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

A cancer diagnosis is one you never see coming. Not even when you’ve heard it before. A few years ago my dermatologist, Dr. Jeffrey Pardes, uncovered what turned out to be stage I melanoma on the back of my right shoulder, and basil cell carcinoma on my left arm. Thankfully, they were found early and treated promptly. I’m an optimist, like my mother. So after my skin cancers were removed, I quickly moved on, focusing on all the wonderful blessings in my life, and fun activities with friends and family.

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

Little did I know that wouldn’t be the last time I heard the words, “You have cancer." One year later, the unexpected happened—I was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer.

On the morning I woke up and noticed a small lump in my right groin area, I assumed it was just another swollen gland from a throat infection I was combatting. But some time passed and I grew concerned. I made an appointment with Dr. Marisa Siebel, director of medical oncology at the Imbert Cancer Center. A few hours later, after a PET scan, I was hearing those dreaded words again—“You have cancer.” All I could think was, “Why is this happening to me?” and “How is this going to affect my life?” I channeled my mother’s positive guiding light and was determined to do all I could to beat this thing.

Rick and I met with gynecological oncologist and surgeon Dr. Ben Schwartz, who scheduled me for surgery the following Monday at Southside Hospital—a total hysterectomy and removal of the inguinal lymph node. I thanked God my ovarian cancer was found early enough that it hadn’t spread any further than that node.

Recovering from the surgery was surprisingly easy—not at all what I expected. Some ovarian cancer surgeries require long recovery times, but my surgeon used a minimally invasive procedure called the da Vinci robotic surgical system that allowed me to heal faster than I would have with traditional surgery. The next day, I was home and feeling no pain.

I had genetic testing done to see if my cancer was hereditary. The results pointed to a BRIP1 gene mutation (a relative of the infamous BRCA3). This mutation can cause a higher risk for ovarian cancer, which means all the women in my direct family line should be tested to evaluate their own risks for the disease.

My doctors recommended six chemotherapy treatments at the Imbert Cancer Center. From the moment I walked in, my anxiety level was relieved. The nurses, technicians, social workers and nutritionists were all so caring, competent and reassuring. The treatment rooms overlook the lawn and gardens, providing a peaceful environment for healing. I had heard about the scary side effects of chemo, but fortunately I tolerated my treatments fairly well. I reminded myself that this too shall pass; it was only temporary.

I attended support groups where I met so many incredible people whose stories and strength inspired me to keep going every day. The encouragement I received at the Center, along with the endless support and prayers from family and friends, was reassuring and helped me stay positive during such a difficult time. I can never thank them enough.

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

Today I am cancer free, thanks to the Northwell cancer center that bears our name. I am humbled and forever grateful to everyone involved. And I am so proud that Rick and I could be a part of something so meaningful to so many people. It goes to show that when you put kindness and generosity out into the world, it comes back to you in mysterious and wonderful ways.

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Published August 27th, 2018

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