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Young Mom Overcomes Rare Cervical Cancer


Deemed healthy by her gynecologist for more than a decade and just months after her latest yearly exam, 35-year-old Miranda Hildebrand thought she was healthy. Instead, she was a “ticking time bomb.” Hildebrand was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cervical cancer in August 2012.

Her doctors at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center say only the powerful combination of a robotic radical hysterectomy and an innovative clinical trial saved the life of the mother-of-two.

“I had noticed some unusual bleeding, but I told myself it was nothing,” said Hildebrand, Director of Academic Web Services for Grand Canyon University. “My yearly Pap smear was normal just six months prior and I have family history of early menopause.”

Hildebrand scheduled an appointment with her gynecologist when the abnormal bleeding progressed and learned that she had Human Papillomavirus (HPV) related pre-cancer cells of a rare, aggressive cancer called cervical adenocarcinoma.

Adenocarcinomas only account for up to 20 percent of all cervical cancers and are not commonly found by Pap smears.

“I just sat in my car and cried,” Hildebrand said. “I felt like a ticking time bomb.”

After two other cancer specialists recommended an invasive biopsy which would require weeks to months of healing and just one week after receiving the shocking news, Hildebrand and her husband, Denis, met Dana Chase, MD, a gynecologic oncologist at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

“Dr. Chase said exactly what I had been asking for since her diagnosis,” Denis Hildebrand remembered. “Remove all of the cancer by hysterectomy. Dr. Chase is very knowledgeable and took her time to talk with us about it. She seemed as certain as I felt that this was the right move.”

“I didn’t want to delay treatment,” said Dr. Chase, who recommended treating the cancer with a robotic radical hysterectomy. “I felt the lesion was suspicious and likely a more aggressive form of the cancer.”

A radical hysterectomy removes reproductive organs along with surrounding lymph nodes and ligaments to minimize the possibility of the cancer spreading. The robotic approach to this radical procedure allows the surgeon a clearer view of surrounding structures, smaller incisions and less blood loss, and a shorter recovery time for the patient.

Within six days of her first meeting with Dr. Chase, Hildebrand had the minimally invasive surgery. Pathology reports showed the cancer had grown nearly two centimeters in size and invaded deep into the cervix.

Given the aggressiveness of the cancer and other risk factors for cancer recurrence, Hildebrand was eligible for further treatment to help prevent the cancer from coming back. Hildebrand participated in a clinical trial through the Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG), an international organization that promotes excellence in the quality and integrity of gynecologic cancer treatment.

“I wanted something good to come from all of this,” said Hildebrand. “Even though I knew the trial would be a horrifying experience for me because I’m terrified of needles, if I could help improve the care of women like me down the road, I wanted to do that.”

In the end, Hildebrand focused on healing for nearly four months from the time of her hysterectomy to her final chemo and radiation treatments, missed six weeks of work and is now cancer free.

“God had his hand on me every step of the way,” said Hildebrand. “I can’t thank my husband and family, friends, church members and co-workers enough for all of their support. I am so fortunate.”

“We see many complex cancers at St. Joseph’s,” says Dr. Chase. “As the only full member site of the GOG in Arizona, we have the opportunity to offer women with rare cancers, like Miranda, the chance to help improve the science in treating that disease.” — St. Joseph’s

Members of the media can schedule interviews by calling Sara Baird at 602.406.3312.

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