For a fifth straight year, Leslie Ginsberg placed first in her age bracket at the Camp Pendleton Mud Run, a 10-kilometer race that involved running, swimming and crawling through mud.
A week later, the 65-year-old endurance athlete felt some unusual bloating in her abdomen.
A CT scan soon confirmed that she had stage III ovarian cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes and other organs. “You never think it’s going to happen to you,” the Newport Coast resident said. “I was a fit, active runner. I saw my gynecologist every year and I had my pap smear every year. I did everything I was supposed to do.”
A search for the best
After the initial shock wore off, Ginsberg and her husband, Phillip, researched ovarian cancer centers around the country and landed on the doctor her primary care physician originally recommended: Dr. Robert Bristow, then director of gynecologic oncology services at UCI Health, home to Orange County’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center.
“We could go anywhere in the country, and I wanted to find the most qualified surgical oncologists and medical care for my wife,” he said. “The fact that Dr. Bristow was close to home made it even better.”
Targeting residual cancer cells
Ginsberg’s new endurance test began with more than a dozen hours of surgery, five months of intravenous chemotherapy followed by three months of intensive intraperitoneal chemotherapy (IP) to infuse a high-dose solution directly into her abdominal cavity to target any residual cancer cells.
The treatments took a toll. Ginsberg, who had been running five to six miles a day on the beach near her home, could barely walk to the corner and back. But she stayed focused on her goal.
'I'm going to come through this'
“I never lost my sense of what I wanted to do — namely return to running,” she said. “I always thought: ‘I’m going to come through this.’ ”
Within a few months after chemotherapy ended, Ginsberg was back to jogging daily with her longtime friends.
She’s indebted to Bristow, who is now chair of the UCI School of Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. She’s also thankful for the nurses and staff at the UCI Health Chao Family Cancer Center, who took such good care of her during her chemotherapy regimens.
'Life is good'
Seven years later, she is cancer free. Most days she can be found running her old distances along her favorite stretch of Orange County beach.
“I am so grateful to be here,” said Ginsberg, now 72. “Life is good.”