For Muskegon resident Karen Thies, it all started with a “cyst” in her appendix.

During a scheduled appendectomy at Mercy Health in Muskegon, the doctors discovered that her appendix was cancerous and leaking. That’s when Thies was transferred to Mercy Health Lacks Cancer Center in Grand Rapids and first met Surgical Oncologist Jill Onesti, MD.

“Dr. Onesti instilled confidence from the minute I met her,” said Thies. “She is smart as a whip, and she is pretty inside and out and good at what she does. She explained what I needed to have done in a way that I could understand.”

“For patients like Karen, who have low-grade mucinous tumors of the appendix, we now have HIPEC,” said Onesti.

“HIPEC (hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy) is a major procedure that offers good long-term outcomes for patients who have limited options. The procedure involves a big incision that allows us to see everything inside the abdomen and pelvis. We look at every surface and to remove every last piece of tumor.”

Thies had been a cancer patient in 1986, but her new diagnosis “didn’t devastate me like the first time when my sons were only 4 and 2½ years old.” At age 69, she said, “I have lived my life. I have enjoyed my boys as they grew up, and I have grandchildren.”

With a lot to live for, Thies has been able to maintain a positive attitude about her serious cancer diagnosis, in part, because of Mercy Health’s team.

Many cancers that involve the gastrointestinal tract require a multi-modality approach that often includes surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Onesti’s team is unique because all of the specialists gather to complete a full assessment of the patient’s history before they even meet the patient. Team members talk through various options and treatment plans, so they can offer the patient a coordinated approach without the patient having to attend multiple appointments.

“A lot of people are dedicated to the complete well-being of each patient,” said Onesti.

While the surgeon is probably the most visible person on the team, behind the scenes the team also consists of a variety of specialists, including a dietitian, a clinical social worker, financial advisors, nurse practitioners and nurse navigators.

During a nine-hour surgery, Dr. Onesti removed Thies’ appendix and part of her large intestine.

“After the cancer is removed, an inflow catheter and an outflow catheter are connected to a machine and inserted into the abdomen, forming a circuit through which we administer targeted chemotherapy directly to the tissues of the organs. Once the chemotherapy has been administered, we remove the catheters, reconnect what needs re-connection, and then help the patient recover from surgery,” said Onesti.

Thies experienced some of the complications that can occur with HIPEC, but with the support of her husband and the Mercy Health team, she has made a very good recovery, which often takes about three months.

“My entire journey was with Mercy Health and what’s special about Mercy Health is that the people really care about the patients,” Thies said. “When I was recovering in the hospital, one nurse, in particular, gave me foot massages during his shift. He even came to check on me when I wasn’t his assigned patient. He knew how much that meant to me and the comfort it provided.”

Today Thies describes her health and outlook: “I’m doing great. I’m walking without my walker and am back to playing the piano, which I have enjoyed since I was six years old. Although it still takes me longer, I am pretty much back to doing my normal personal care and household activities. My husband, Ray, has been a consistent helpmate throughout this process and has helped encourage me along the way.”

Theis’ 17-year old grandson has also been very supportive and encourages her when the days get difficult. Theis still can’t do everything the way she used to, but she keeps getting stronger every day.

Being able to resume travel has meant a lot to Theis. “We recently spent time traveling in the South, which included a seven-day cruise to the western Caribbean, where we celebrated our 49th wedding anniversary. All in all, I would have to say that Mercy Health is an amazing godsend.”

Schedule a Conversation with a HIPEC Surgeon with Dr. Onesti

Originally Posted on: “HIPEC Procedure Improves Cancer Patient’s Quality of Life.” Mercy Health News,