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In it for the Long Run

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Mai Linh Nguyen Achong was just 22 years old when she started experiencing abnormal symptoms like uncomfortable menstrual periods and sharp, abdominal pain. An ultrasound would reveal a cyst in her left ovary, but her physician at the time expressed little concern that it could turn into anything serious and left the cyst unresolved.

Over the next few years, Mai Linh’s symptoms worsened, beginning with recurrent episodes of excruciating pelvic pain that radiated from front to back, to the top of her shoulders and down to her buttocks.“It was crippling, and I could not stand to move for hours. The same episode happened twice.”

maiinchair

At age 26, Mai Linh would be diagnosed with a rare type of ovarian cancer called granulosa cell tumor, requiring surgery to remove the left ovary and fallopian tubes. Her treatment didn’t include chemotherapy or radiation because it was detected in its early stages. “I didn’t ask a lot of questions,” Mai Linh says. “Now, knowing what I know, it can be a life-long disease.”

Mai Linh continued to experience discomfort and abnormalities after her surgery, but her doctor wasn’t following up with her concerns. Severe pain would bring her back to the doctor,“My doctors found a mass on my liver that they initially thought was non-cancerous. It was actually a cancer reoccurrence that had spread, and I had it removed from my liver, omentum, and lymph nodes.” This was when she met Dr. Nathalie McKenzie, a gynecologic oncologist.

Dr. McKenzie immediately started Mai Linh on an aggressive chemotherapy treatment and proceeded with a total hysterectomy. “Dr. McKenzie sat by my bedside and apologized to me that my care under my previous provider hadn’t included an oncologist visit before.” Dr. McKenzie continues to support Mai Linh in her ongoing battle at AdventHealth. “She vowed to take care of me and has been faithful ever since. She is my doctor, but I would also call her my friend.”

In October 2022, Mai Linh would need greater support than ever before when she received a recurrent episode of ovarian cancer again on her liver. The radiation that was effective in previous relapses was not an option for treatment because the tumor was too close to her heart. Mai Linh would have her 10th surgery to remove the cancer.

mai with dr mckenzie

The surgery appeared to be successful until days later when Mai Linh began to experience abnormal swelling in her abdomen and legs and run a high fever. Within minutes of texting Dr. McKenzie, Mai Linh received a phone call and was urged to go to the emergency department.

A CT scan showed a perforation in her bowl requiring immediate surgery. By November, Mai Linh would undergo four more surgeries, a month long stay in the ICU, and some of the darkest days of her life.

When asked what carried her through those moments, Mai Linh shared about her faith, her husband, and her community of family and friends including Dr. McKenzie. Dr. McKenzie even came to visit her in the hospital without her white coat during her days off saying, “Today I am here as your friend.”

Like many others who face the ongoing battle of ovarian cancer, Mai Linh shares,“It is about finding your ‘why’ and building a community so that on days you can’t find your strength, you can lean in on people who can be your strength. Find a physician who sees you and hears you and who will fight for you.”

Mai Linh is currently under care at AdventHealth and will be participating in a fundraising event on May 30, called Racing for Cancer Research through AdventHealth’s Play it Forward program. Proceeds from this event will go directly to supporting cancer research to improve the quality of life for patients like Mai Linh and ultimately discover a cure. Click here to give and join the race to find a cure.

mai with her fam

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