When Los Angeles Police Department officer Theresa Skinner, 53, isn’t patrolling Venice Beach, she’s swimming laps and camping all over the United States with her closest friends. As an officer, Skinner knows the importance of caring for the community and for her own health.
In 2014, she scheduled an appointment for a routine pap test, as she always would, but this one ended differently than expected. When Skinner’s routine test results came back, they were anything but routine – she had stage I cervical cancer. Pap tests are the best tool to identify cervical cancer.
Immediately, she was referred to Kristine Penner, M.D., medical director, Gynecologic Oncology Program, MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute, Long Beach Medical Center, who removed Skinner’s cancer through robotic-assisted surgery. Through robotic-assisted visualization, dexterity and control, Dr. Penner performed the procedure through small 1 – 2 cm incision. Robotic-assisted surgery often results in less post-operative pain, minimal scarring and reduced trauma to the body.
“Thankfully, Theresa was very good about getting her route cervical cancer screening, and we were able to catch the cancer early,” says Dr. Penner.
After her surgery, Skinner went back to her regular routine, which included a screening every three months. Two years after her diagnosis, she started experiencing cramping. “When the cramping began,” says Skinner, “I knew something was wrong.”
Dr. Penner did several more tests and discovered the cancer had spread to Skinner’s lymph nodes. Skinner underwent a second surgery to remove the cancer. She spent some time in the Intensive Care Unit at Long Beach Medical Center to ensure a complete recovery.
Once she left the hospital, it was time for the next round of treatments. Skinner had chemotherapy at the Ambulatory Infusion Center in the Todd Cancer Pavilion, located at Long Beach Medical Center. The Ambulatory Infusion Center has 36 infusion bays with retractable doors – allowing conversations between patients or providing privacy. The chairs are heated to ensure the comfort of patient during treatment.
“The care team at the Ambulatory Infusion Center was fantastic,” says Skinner. “At each appointment, I had at least two friends with me. They were my support system. They helped me get through this journey. The care team was open to letting me have as many people there as I wanted, and treated everyone with the upmost respect. We all became a family.”
After her chemotherapy was complete, Skinner had radiation therapy at the Thomas & Dorothy Leavey Radiation Oncology Center at Long Beach Medical Center. The multi-disciplinary care team of radiation oncologists, radiation therapists, physicists and nurses worked with Dr. Penner to develop a unique treatment plan to combat Skinner’s cancer. Throughout her radiation, her friends continued to be right by her side.
“I couldn’t have done it without the support of my friends and the amazing staff at Long Beach Medical Center,” says Skinner. “Today, I’m proud to say I can add cancer survivor to my list of accomplishments.”
Now that her treatment is done, Skinner and her friends swim laps each morning, plan trips and support each other through life’s ups and downs.
“I always share the importance of routine screening with my colleagues, friends and neighbors,” says Skinner. “Since they found my cancer early, I had a great outcome, and I want to be sure that other women do as well.”