One year later: Woman recounts cancer treatment during pandemic

Emily Tropp and her family

MADISON, Wis. — One year after undergoing surgery at the UW Carbone Cancer Center to treat her stage 4 ovarian cancer, a woman is reflecting on her treatment amid the pandemic.

Emily Tropp was 43 years old when she was diagnosed with cancer in December 2019, around the same time cases of the coronavirus began spreading overseas. Tropp went on to start chemotherapy in January. Just two days after UW Health confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in Wisconsin, experts confirmed Tropp had the BRCA1 cancer gene.

“It felt like every time I saw my medical team, they were wearing more PPE,” Tropp said. “I was hoping to have my support system of friends and family with me, but my friends ended up holding signs outside my window instead of being at my bedside.”

Loved ones hold signs outside of Emily Tropp's window

Photo courtesy of UW Health

Just five days after the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, Tropp found herself going under the knife for an operation that would hopefully rid her body of cancer. It was a long and extensive, but successful operation.

Dr. Ahmed Al-Niaimi, director of surgical quality outcome for the department of OBGYN at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, said the surgery ended with all visible cancer being removed from Tropp’s body.

“For cases like Emily’s, it was imperative to begin comprehensive treatment, including surgery, as soon as possible regardless of the circumstances happening around us,” said Dr. Al-Niaimi. “But those early days were surreal. Things were changing by the day as we worked hard to keep all our patients safe from a virus we still knew very little about.”

After her surgery, Tropp underwent chemotherapy through May 2020. In June 2020 she was declared NED (No Evidence of Disease). She’s maintained that status since.

“Dr. Al-Niaimi saved my life and I don’t have words to describe my gratitude,” Tropp said. “I’m so grateful for his expertise and his care.”

Health experts at the UW Carbone Cancer Center said regardless of what’s going on around us, it’s important for folks to schedule routine mammograms and colonoscopies to catch the disease early on.