Wallingford Athlete Overcomes Tumor To Return To Court, Field
WALLINGFORD, Conn. (AP) _ A two-pound tumor entwined throughout Isabelle Fishbein-Ouimette’s left ovary, leaving one option.
The grapefruit-sized mass, six inches in diameter, had to go. Now.
In the span of just four days, the Lyman Hall soccer and tennis star went from a doctor’s appointment at Pediatric Medicine of Wallingford to an hour-and-a-half surgery at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital.
Before the July 17 surgery last summer, the Fisbhein-Ouimette family didn’t know if the tumor was cancerous or not. After the operation, tests confirmed it was benign.
“They showed me a picture of it in the hospital,” Isabelle said. “I knew if I didn’t see the picture, it would bother me. Either way, it would bother me. It was like a balloon.”
Doctors predicted a six-month recovery to get back to her normal fitness level, meaning missing her senior soccer season was likely. But the 17-year-old surpassed that easily. She was on the field for Lyman Hall’s first regular season soccer game on September 11 against Law.
Overcoming ovarian teratoma earned Fishbein-Ouimette the 2013 Comeback of the Year scholarship award issued by Connecticut Orthopaedic Specialists (COS). The $1,000 scholarship will come in handy as Isabelle will attend the University of Ottawa in the fall.
“It was a pretty impressive recovery because it was a major operation,” her father Denis said. “When you see the picture of what came out of there, it was unbelievable.”
Isabelle was unaware of the scholarship offered to student-athletes in the Southern Connecticut Conference until Lyman Hall’s head girls’ soccer coach, Charles Liu, nominated her.
“I was surprised I won because I applied for it last minute,” Isabelle said.
Isabelle had already transitioned to the next sport, turning in her soccer cleats for tennis shoes when Liu emailed Jacqueline a form for Isabelle to fill out.
“I had a tennis match that day and my mom was like, `You have to fill this out real quick!’ I had to write the essay overnight and then emailed it to him,” Isabelle explained.
A week later, she came home from school to discover she won.
“Pretty much everything in my life just happens really fast,” Isabelle said while laughing. “I’m a speedy person.”
Doctor appointments were scheduled quickly in July of 2012. A visit to her pediatrician led to an ultrasound then an MRI and then surgery.
After the ultrasound, the woman who ran the test wouldn’t give Jacqueline the results. She suspected something was wrong all along.
“Usually they say, `Oh yeah, everything is fine,’ but they said, `Well, your doctor will discuss it with you.’ Then I got a little bit worried,” Jacqueline recalled. “I got a call right away saying, `There is something there so we are going to send her for an MRI.’ “
Isabelle was thankful for the rapid pace of events. It gave her less time to think about it.
“I would have worried so much if my surgery was planned like a month after I found out,” she said. “They didn’t really know much about the tumor. It’s pretty rare to get something like that. Since I’m so young, they wanted to get it out of me. They didn’t know what caused it or how fast it was growing.”
Initially, Isabelle went to the doctor because she felt bloated and was experiencing abdominal pain.
“I don’t really know how to describe it,” she said. “I could just tell because I noticed a difference in my body. I had pain when I laid on my stomach or when I tried to exercise. It would hurt really bad. I thought I just had a small, little infection. I was really shocked.”
In the mornings, Jacqueline said, her daughter would experience pain, but after going to the bathroom, it would lessen. The tumor was so large that it would press on her bladder when full, she said, so the pain wasn’t constant.
Despite this pain, Denis added, she didn’t have much pain the week of surgery. Isabelle even asked if she could participate in soccer practice that week.
“I said no. We thought if she stayed away from everybody she’d be a lot less stressed,” Denis said. “Since everything happened very quickly, we decided to kind of not tell anybody. There was no need to call family members or call friends. We just lived the life like nothing was going on.”
So much so that Isabelle’s father equated the surgery to “her going to have her teeth removed.” It wasn’t until after the surgery, when his daughter realized how serious it was.
And it was a good thing the Fishbein-Ouimettes decided to keep the secret within immediate family. Afterward, Denis’ mother told him that her friend had died from the same operation.
“That’s the kind of thing you don’t want to talk about,” he said. “We just avoided that.”
Not personally knowing the surgeon beforehand, Jacqueline’s mother instincts were ready to kick in to protect her baby if necessary.
“Doctor Michael Caty really put me at ease, and I didn’t think I would be. I said, `OK, I’m going to come in and direct your surgery,”’ Jacqueline said while laughing. “He said it’s really routine and not a big deal.”
Caty was not sure when the tumor started, Denis said, but it could have been there for five years. The decision was made to not try to save the left ovary. The chance of developing cancer in the future made it not worth it.
“As a female, it’s a little bit devastating because I want to have grandchildren and you want your child to be able to have children,” Jacqueline said. “But he said, `You’re still going to have one ovary, so that won’t be an issue.”’
Jacqueline and Denis brought along their two other children, 10-year old Sophia and 12-year-old Alexandre, on July 17. The four family members waited.
Isabelle said Alexandre was really worried about her, understanding more of what was going on than Sophia.
“They both made me cards. They are just adorable. They drew me pictures. My brother drew SpongeBob on it because we watch that together.”
Trying to recall the duration of the surgery, Jacqueline could not. “It seemed like a long time,” she said. “After, it was just good to see her and have her open her eyes, but she was just in so much pain.”
Isabelle spent five days in the hospital, staying in bed the entire time, waking only to take medicine. She was in so much pain that it hurt to just sit up.
Denis stayed by his daughter’s side for the five days, sleeping overnight on a little cot in Isabelle’s hospital room. He never considered going home.
With a smile, Isabelle said, “My dad refused to leave the whole time I stayed there.”
Even after the five days, Jacqueline said her daughter didn’t really want to leave the hospital.
“Before she left, I had asked the nurse to help her take a shower. It was just so difficult for her, getting out of bed. She couldn’t really stand up straight. I just tried to be strong for her. But I do know how tough she is. It was very difficult seeing her like that and in that pain.”
Charles Liu lost track of time.
The one player he meant to take out after 10 minutes in the Trojans’ opening week of action played the entire first half. Liu had carefully kept track of her minutes during preseason, but slipped this time.
Liu, who will enter his 24th year has head coach of Lyman Hall girls soccer this season, looked at Isabelle and said, “Oh my God, I forgot to take you out 10 minutes later.”
Her answer? She was fine. Just a little tired.
There was no big applause when the left outside midfielder took the field that Tuesday. The humble eight-letter winner wouldn’t ask for that.
“I didn’t tell a lot of people about it,” she said. “It’s not something you say, `Oh hey, by the way .’ I was just really happy to be back on the field.”
After a month of recovery, Isabelle returned to double-session practices in August. After the first one, Jacqueline remembers her coming home in tears.
“It was pretty rough. I took it really slow. It was the toughest time in my life,” Isabelle said.
Sometimes Isabelle was just so exhausted she couldn’t go back to the second two-hour practice session in the afternoon.
“Mentally, it was really draining on her,” Jacqueline said. “She was just so frustrated. She’s a really good athlete, but she wasn’t able to keep up with the running. She was the last person or she wasn’t able to finish it.”
The operation wasn’t the only time Isabelle’s mom resisted the urge to run to her oldest child. The thought of her baby going back to soccer so quickly scared her.
“If she would get bumped in the stomach, I was ready to run on the field,” she said while laughing. “You just worry about the damage that could be done. At the beginning of the season, she just didn’t have the stamina.”
In the first regular season match, Isabelle proved she was back by knocking in her first goal of the year. The senior ended with three goals and three assists throughout the season.
After the third or fourth week, Liu said, they didn’t even talk about her injury because she was back to her normal self.
“She’s special. She’s extremely tough. She’s one of those that does not refrain from anything. She takes on challenges unbelievably,” Liu said. “She sets her mind to it and just never gives up. You talk about kids that are really tough and they give you always 110 percent, they do whatever they have to, go through walls: She was all that put together.”
Even though Liu did nominate Isabelle for the scholarship award, he says she won that award because of what she did for herself.
“I think she really did not want to miss her senior year,” he said. “I think she realized that if she had not been there, it really would have killed us. We didn’t have anybody else to fill that position.”
After soccer season, tennis was next. A few weeks in, third-year coach Stephanie Lavado noticed the excitement on Isabelle’s face when she arrived at practice.
The 17-year-old had just found out about winning the Comeback of the Year Award.
“I had no idea. She started the season as Isabelle, normal and healthy, played well,” Lavado said. “I had no idea that this had ever happened in the fall.”
Lavado wasn’t the only one not to know about the ovarian tumor. Isabelle didn’t want her teachers to find out. She stuck with her five Advanced Placement classes without her grades declining.
“She didn’t want her teachers to know because she didn’t want them to feel sorry for her. I never spoke to her teachers,” Jacqueline said. “It was tough. I kept my mouth shut because she requested it. I wanted to tell all her teachers. I respected what she had asked of me.”
Jacqueline frequently wondered where her daughter was hiding the two-pound tumor. The incision on Isabelle was 41/2 inches. The doctor’s assistant need two hands to hold it.
“I was just amazed because Isabelle has a nice, flat stomach. And I’m like, `Where the heck was it?”’
“I’m just really thankful for my parents, coaches and all my friends for being so supportive of me and understanding what I was going through,” Isabelle said. “It really helped me through my recovery.”
Information from: Record-Journal, http://www.record-journal.com
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