For Beth Underhill, 47, fitness is life. Not only does she run her own exercise studio, Bella Forza Fitness, but fitness helped keep her motivated throughout her treatment for endometrial cancer.
Beth was diagnosed with cancer in May 2015, after experiencing unusual vaginal bleeding and cramping. Endometrial cancer starts when cells in the inner lining of the uterus (endometrium) grow out of control.
Signs and Symptoms
“I have a family history of cancer—my grandmother had a brain tumor, my dad had kidney cancer and my mom had breast cancer. My sister just experienced endometrial cancer, so there was an obvious genetic tie,” she says.
“I was training for a body building competition, so at first I thought I may have just lifted too hard. Then I began getting sharp pains in my pelvic area, which I thought could be appendicitis,” Beth says.
A trip to her gynecologist led to blood work, ultrasounds, a Pap test and other tests that showed nothing abnormal. However, when Beth met with Dana Lovell, MD, department director of obstetrics and gynecology at West Chester Hospital, and an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, a lesion was discovered. This explained the bleeding. Dr. Lovell biopsied the tumor and a few days later Beth was notified that it was malignant.
Weighing the Options
Beth was referred to Heather Pulaski, MD, a UC Health gynecologic oncologist with West Chester Hospital and the UC Cancer Institute (UCCI), and assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UC College of Medicine. Dr. Pulaski helped Beth weigh her options, including surgery.
“I just wanted to begin the process and to get through it,” Beth says. “I didn’t shed a tear initially. I was thinking, ‘I have a husband (David), a daughter (Gia) and a business to worry about, so I just need to get through this.’”
She opted for a radical (total) hysterectomy in June.
“I remember Dr. Pulaski holding my hand when they wheeled me into surgery and saying, ‘I will do everything in my power to help you to be OK.’ That was the first time I cried. She showed me that I wasn’t just a number—I wasn’t just another patient. She truly cared.”
Not Done Yet
During surgery, another unpleasant surprise was discovered: the cancer had spread to Beth’s lymph nodes, and chemotherapy would be required.
“It was the one thing I didn’t want to endure,” she says. “I thought they could remove the tumor and I’d be done, but now, I’d have to have chemotherapy, too, and lose my hair. While I was upset, I was so glad I hadn’t waited any longer to see my physician. It could have been much worse.”
“The nurses at the West Chester Hospital infusion therapy clinic who administered the chemotherapy treatment were fantastic, and I really appreciated their sense of humor,” she says. “They would tease David because he would always nap during my treatments. They even reserved the same chair—my chair—for me in the infusion suite so I’d know where I’d be sitting each time. The care they provided to me is a true testament to the level of care that is provided throughout UC Health.”
Beth underwent five weeks of radiation therapy. Jordan Kharofa, MD, a UC Health West Chester Hospital radiation oncologist and assistant professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the UC College of Medicine, oversaw her treatment.
“Dr. Kharofa told me that I may not feel like doing the same things I’d done before, like lifting heavy weights like I had done in the past,” says Beth. “But I decided early on to have a sense of normalcy and beat this as quickly as I could. I didn’t place any limitations on myself.”
Throughout her treatment, Beth continued to work out four days a week, fitting in exercise on days she knew she would feel best, and resting on the tougher days after a radiation session. By the time she had finished radiation, she was actually lifting heavier weights than when she began.
On December 28, 2015, Beth went into remission.
“I was almost in disbelief,” she says. “They called me ‘Wonder Woman’ – I remained positive and made it to where I am today.”
Now, Beth is focusing on spending time with her family and on her business. She is once again training for a fitness competition and she tries to inspire others by sharing her story as often as possible.
“There needs to be more awareness of gynecologic cancers,” she says. “I’m so glad I had the support from my team at UC Health. Everyone was so compassionate and empathetic. The comfort they provided helped me continue to stay strong and live the life I’m supposed to live.”