“I was a very busy individual – a full-time, single working parent, with none of the risk factors. It’s a wicked cancer that doesn’t have any typical symptoms.”
As a senior medical adviser in acute care, Ivana Rapajic-Moran is adept in making quick and crucial decisions for patients. In 2019, she had to make such decisions for herself when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“It was surreal,” Ivana says, recalling the moment she was diagnosed. “But I couldn’t change my thinking or mindset. I involved my colleagues – medical experts both nationally and internationally – to discover what the best treatment was.”
That treatment was a peritonectomy with HIPEC (Heated Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy), a treatment technique that involves surgical removal of the lining of the abdominal cavity, and delivering a heated, high-strength chemotherapy solution directly into the patient’s abdomen after the procedure to kill any remaining microscopic cancer cells.
“A few friends of mine, medical doctors in my home country of Serbia, recommended this procedure to me. But of course, my preference was to stay in Sydney, rather than uproot my sixteen-year-old daughter who was starting her HSC.”
Ivana was relieved to find out this highly specialised procedure could be offered close to home, at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. She came under the care of Dr Rhonda Farrell, Deputy Director of Gynae-oncology, who is completing her PhD in HIPEC for ovarian cancer.
Dr Farrell’s paper involves gathering evidence to further refine HIPEC in treating ovarian cancer, and raise it’s profile as an effective treatment.
Dr Farrell says: “Evidence suggests that there is a greater kill of cancer cells when chemotherapy is heated. But we don’t know if its the heat itself, the direct contact with the drug, or the combination of both that’s effective.
“Finding answers to these questions means that women can avoid having longer treatments and more aggressive surgery that impacts their quality of life.
“Our aim is to improve the survival rate and wellbeing of women like Ivana, as well as delay the return of their cancer.”
In her capacity as patient and medical professional, Ivana advocates for Dr Farrell and her research.
“Patients are often a little bit different in each country,” says Ivana. “That’s why it’s so important that Rhonda test this procedure in Australia, on Australian patients, and that Australian patients are informed about this option.
“As a patient, you have to find a doctor you’re happy with. It’s so important to have implicit trust in your specialists to put your mind at ease so you can achieve the best results. I’m grateful to Dr Farrell and her surgical team.”