Marlene’s story: On the go after ovarian cancer

Thursday, October 20, 2016

By: Jeff Ash

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Marlene Krueger is always on the go, and she isn’t letting ovarian cancer slow her down.


“We do a lot of dancing, a lot of walking. We like to travel,” says Krueger, who’s 80 and lives in Winneconne with her husband Jim.


She can do all of that thanks to the expertise of Dr. Peter R. Johnson, an Aurora BayCare gynecologic oncologist.


“Without him, I wouldn’t be here,” Krueger says.


While vacationing in Arizona in early 2010, Krueger noticed that her stomach was bloated. When she returned home, she found that she’d lost weight and that her clothes didn’t fit. It didn’t add up, though.


“I didn’t have any pain, any bleeding, nothing,” Krueger said.


Until she passed blood, that is. Then she saw a physician. Ultrasounds indicated a large mass in her abdomen. She was referred to Johnson, who soon thereafter did two surgeries to perform a hysterectomy and to remove cancer that had spread to her stomach, colon, spleen and appendix.


That extensive attention to detail is the key to surviving ovarian cancer, Johnson says.


“We want to get rid of every speck of cancer we find in the abdomen.” he says. “If we leave nothing visible, there’s a 50 percent five-year survival rate. If we don’t, there’s a less than 5 percent five-year survival rate.”



Genetics had much to do with Krueger’s cancer.


“We have a family history of it, but I didn’t know I had it,” she said. “I knew my mother and sister had it, but I kind of figured that because I lived a healthy life, it was fine.”


Not necessarily. Women who inherit mutations in the BRCA1 and/or BRCA2 genes – as Krueger did – are at greater risk for ovarian, breast and other cancers.


“The biggest risk for ovarian cancer is heredity,” Johnson said. He urges women to talk to their physicians and have genetic testing to determine whether they have those gene mutations. For some women, having the ovaries and tubes removed reduces the risk of ovarian cancer.


“If your mother had ovarian cancer and is still alive, she should get genetic testing,” Johnson urges women who suspect they may be at risk. “If your mother died of ovarian cancer, you should get genetic testing.”


That hit home for Krueger, whose four children include a daughter, and whose extended family counts five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.


“I didn’t know about genetic testing back then, but I do now,” she said.


Krueger’s condition is stable, though there’s always a risk that her cancer can return. After four rounds of chemotherapy, she’s moved on to an oral chemotherapy regimen.


“I’m doing fine now,” she said.


Next up? Celebrating her 60th wedding anniversary with Jim, who’s been at her side throughout her journey with ovarian cancer.


“He gives me lots of encouragement. He keeps me upbeat,” she said, smiling as she holds hands with him.


Dr. Peter R. Johnson of Aurora BayCare Gynecologic Oncology sees patients in Green Bay and Neenah. For information, call 844-260-3002.

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