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November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks: Reflecting on cancer battle, Jackie and Harold Taylor count their blessings

NEW CASTLE — Harold and Jackie Taylor were a bundle of nerves.

A nurse practitioner had just met with the Shenango Township couple in the Hermitage UPMC WomanCare office of ovarian oncologist Dr. Robert Edwards. After examining Jackie, she said, “well, if you don’t have any questions, we’ll see you in three months.”

Harold and Jackie stared at the nurse practitioner, then at each other. Finally Jackie broke the silence.

“Three months?” she said. “You don’t need to see me for three months?”

The nurse practitioner smiled and said, “Maybe I better get the doctor.”

Jackie was expecting to receive details during last week’s visit on a proposed second surgery that might buy her some more time in her battle against fallopian tube cancer. What she got instead left the husband and wife of 21 years speechless.

“Surgery is not needed,” Edwards told the stunned Taylors, “because there is nothing left to pluck.

“Enjoy your good health,” he said as he left the room.

And with that, Harold and Jackie Taylor simultaneously laughed and cried at the miracle they had just been given.

THE BEGINNING

It was Christmas Eve 2011, and Harold and Jackie were hosting a family gathering.

“It was the first time that we had the entire family together in a long time — we were so happy to be able to do it,” 46-year-old Jackie said. “We were opening gifts and all of a sudden, I felt like something exploded in my lower left abdomen. The pain was so intense, I yelled out loud.

“But as soon as it came, it went,” she added. “And I pretty much forgot about it.”

Later in the winter, her stomach felt sore and in March, she was lying on her bed when she felt a hard spot in her stomach.

The 1984 Laurel High graduate immediately contacted her OB/GYN, Dr. Joseph Ciocca of Ellwood City. When a March 29 ultrasound showed nothing conclusive, Ciocca ordered a CAT scan, which was done April 6. Three days later, she found herself sitting in the office of ovarian oncologist Dr. Scott Richard, then of UPMC-Passavant.

“Dr. Richard said, ‘I’m not telling you that you have cancer, but something is going on here and we have to find out what it is.’ ”

Richard recommended exploratory surgery to examine a fist-sized cyst attached to Jackie’s ovaries.

“They had to see if they could get to it and if so if it could be removed,” Jackie said. “But I was told that if it proved to be cancerous, they would just go ahead and do a total hysterectomy while they were in there.”

Jackie said that her first reaction when she woke up in the recovery room at Passavant after the May 3 surgery was to grab at her stomach.

“I could tell it was bad just from what I felt,” she said. “I knew they did the hysterectomy, but they didn’t get the tumor out.”

Pathology tests, which included testing of two lymph nodes that were removed during the surgery, confirmed what Richard had suspected. A cancerous tumor had metastasized to Jackie’s left peritoneum — the membrane that lines the stomach — and was compromising her organs.

The diagnosis was Stage 4 fallopian tube cancer.

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