Forever an Advocate

When former health reporter Jane Gardner wanted to double check her treatment plan, she came to Duke Cancer Institute.

Photos by Steve Earley/The Virginian-Pilot

Though she’s retired from her career as a TV anchorwoman covering the health beat, Jane Gardner still thinks like a patient advocate. Her latest public service— inviting readers of The Virginian-Pilot newspaper with her into the waiting room, the exam room, and even her home as she fights clear cell ovarian cancer, a rare subtype of the disease. She even let a photographer shoot photos as her hairdresser shaved her head, in preparation for chemotherapy. “I had told them they could ask any questions they wanted and take any pictures they wanted,” she says. “So I don’t think I could go back and say, ‘No pictures of me bald.’”

Soon after Gardner was diagnosed and given a treatment plan by her local cancer center, she sought a second opinion at Duke. “I believe that patients need to use the power that they have to look after themselves. And part of that is to ask their doctor for a second opinion,” she says. “That can be hard, as I found out.” While receiving her diagnosis and pathology report, she asked many questions, but she forgot to ask for a referral for a second opinion. “I was so overwhelmed. It was only after I got home that I said, ‘I need to do the thing I always told my viewers to do.’”

Gardner’s visit to Duke was reassuring. Medical oncologist Stephanie Gaillaird, MD, PhD, agreed with the treatment plan that Gardner’s local doctor had created. Gaillaird also advised her that if her cancer turned out to be resistant to the usual treatment, she could return to Duke, because there were other options to consider. “As a health care advocate and reporter, I was impressed,” Gardner says. “Everyone I met at Duke showed such respect for me as the patient and for the diagnosis process. Dr. Gaillard took the time to help me understand my particular weird form of ovarian cancer. A place that beautiful could be intimidating if the people weren’t so warm, welcoming, and helpful.”

About halfway through a planned course of chemotherapy, Gardner’s levels of CA-125 (a marker of ovarian cancer cells) have dropped substantially. “My doctor thinks that’s a good sign,” she says. “I’m cautiously optimistic.”